Hannah Godefa Catholic Register files

425,000 pencils collected, endless possibilities to go

  • July 25, 2012

VAUGHAN, ONT. - It took Hannah Godefa almost half her life to collect 425,000 pencils for students in Ethiopia. Now, one year after sending the bulk of the load to her parent’s native country, Godefa is going to see what else the students in the impoverished African nation need.

“I cannot wait to see what needs to be done so that we can do an even better job next time,” said the 14-year-old who left on July 24 for a  five-week visit to the Horn of Africa, the northeast region of the continent where Ethiopia is located. “I’m just going to go and visit the schools that I sent pencils to. You know really get a sense of what there is still left that is needed to be done.”

This is Godefa’s fourth trip to Ethiopia where she’s been sending pencils, school supplies and letters from her Canadian classmates to students since 2006.

During her visit, Godefa, appointed the Youth and Goodwill Ambassador in 2011 by the Ethiopian government, will collaborate with students, school staff and Ethiopia’s minister of eduction to determine the next phase of her social justice activism.

The project, dubbed Pencil Mountain, began after Godefa’s parents brought her to Ethiopia to introduce her to her family, heritage and culture. During this initial visit to Axum, a northern city where her grandmother lives, Godefa befriended a local and wished to continue the friendship as pen pals — a request she was denied.

“I couldn’t understand why this happened,” said Godefa. “I approached my parents about the idea and they explained to me that, in the simplest way possible, because she didn’t have writing supplies or writing materials it wouldn’t be possible to communicate.”

But Godefa wouldn’t take no for an answer. Prior to stepping back onto Canadian soil, Godefa knew what she would do: collect and deliver 20,000 pencils to the Ethiopian students. 

With ambition burning and her parents’ support, the then Divine Mercy Catholic Elementary School student presented her idea to principal Opiyo Oloya who admitted to being hesitant at first. Luckily for the students in Ethiopia, Godefa’s enthusiasm was infectious and with a little persuasion her former principal agreed to support Pencil Mountain.

“Hannah was a very persistent young person and you just can’t say no to her,” Oloya, now a York Catholic District School Board superintendent of education, said. “Soon the pencils started coming in to the school by boxes, and it went on and on.”

Not only did support from her entire community pile up — including politicians, local media and residents — but so did the pencils, 5,000 more than her goal.

“So in 2006 I went back to Ethiopia and delivered the pencils there,” she said. “Then when I came back I wanted to do it again but I wanted to do even more than what I had done before because I knew that I had an amazing support system in Vaughan.”

She wanted to do more alright, 10 times more, setting her new quota at 200,000 pencils along with various other school supplies. An ambitious goal with an admirable quality surpassed only by the amount of support received. This included support from several schools in the York Catholic board that banded together to battle it out fundraiser style, starting the Pencil Collection Competition, one of the most significant sources for attaining the writing utensils but far from the only.

“The support came from people from all walks of life,” said Godefa, who also received a transportation-cost sponsorship from Ethiopian Airlines. “I really like to put emphasis on young students and the schools in my community because they are really the ones who got everything going.”

Upon her return to Vaughan’s St. Elizabeth Catholic High School this September, they’ll be the ones she’s calling upon again as Pencil Mountain enters its third phase.

“It’s really important to have youth involved in these type of projects because obviously, as we’ve heard many times before, the youth are the leaders of tomorrow. But what’s really important to understand is that youth are leaders of today,” said Godefa. “If you give children the opportunities that they need, I’m telling you they are going to change the world.”

For information on Pencil Mountain and Godefa, visit www.hannahgodefa.org.

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