First-and second-graders at Lincoln Elementary School in Oak Park got to talk with someone halfway around the world last week as part of the Peace Corps' International Phone Call event.
And it wasn't just anyone they talked with. It was Oak Parker Ruth Giorango, niece of Kathy Wiedow, who team-teaches the multiage class with Jarvia Thomas.
Wiedow's and Thomas' class was one of 30 classes from 21 states picked for the call, which Giorango placed from her mobile phone near the village of Popopo in Lesotho (pronounced "Luh SOO too"), a small country surrounded by South Africa.
Wiedow guessed that her connection to Giorango, and the fact that the class was already well-acquainted with the Peace Corps volunteer as a pen pal, helped them be selected for the call, which the organization promoted as part of Peace Corps Week.
The students prepared questions to ask Giorango as homework assignments, and came one-by-one to a table, where a conference-call device with multiple microphones and a loudspeaker allowed the entire class of 43 to listen in.
Do you have electricity there? Yes, but many don't. Does it snow there? Yes, but only high in the mountains, not where she is. Are there giraffes? No, people killed them for food in that area.
As Wiedow helped the children asked questions, Thomas kept the other students quiet for the 40-minute call. A digital slideshow at the opposite end of the classroom showed pictures of Giorango in Lesotho, some of the people in her village, and the one-room house she lives in, prompting Wiedow to ask what the inside of the house looks like.
Giorango said she takes baths behind a curtain with a bucket of water she heats on a gas-burning stove, and has to walk outside to the pit latrine whenever nature calls. Some mornings a large sheep who's strayed from the herd is there to greet her.
Most people in Lesothoâ€"the Basothoâ€"eat spinach and papa, which Giorango described as a bland white mash made from maize meal and water, with the occasional meat and beans.
Giorango is on a steady diet of grilled cheese.
Giorango told WEDNESDAY JOURNAL in January that, after earning a degree in early childhood development from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, she wanted to join the Peace Corps "because I wanted to travel and experience another culture."
Her assignment working with preschool teachers has her doing just that.
She makes weekly trips to five schools, some with as many as 60 students. She speaks to them in English, which none of the students know, and sometimes reads stories. She thinks some of the students are starting to pick up some English words.
Learning English is important for the students, as they will have to know it later in school, Giorango explained.
She also talks with her host family, and other kids who live in Popopo.
Before leaving for Lesotho about a year ago, Giorango came to the class to read African folk tales and tell the students about her journey. The second graders in the class were first graders at the time.
The class has continued to stay in touch, and last year held a book drive for basic picture books in English to send to Lesotho for Giorango to give to kids there. They plan to send another box of books and school supplies this year.
"We'd like to reach out to our new community and help out any way we can," Wiedow told Giorango.
When the time was up, the students, teachers and Giorango's mom, who dropped by to say hi to her daughter, all shouted a hearty, "Goodbye!"