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Lessons in Faith and Third-Grader Compassion

By Patrick Carney

Barbara Gilman found a way to make a classroom full of 32 third-graders silent.

Ngoc has been integrated into a classroom with other children.

Ngoc, 13, has cerebral palsy. She has been integrated into a class of 11-year-olds, where a specially trained teacher handles her special needs. Photo by Sean Sprague for CRS

She showed her students a Catholic Relief Services Operation Rice Bowl slide show of students with disabilities in Vietnam who couldn't attend school because their buildings weren't handicap accessible.

"That really moved them," Gilman says. "They felt that it wasn't fair that kids couldn't go to school, and they were really touched by that."

Gilman, like the entire staff at St. Margaret Mary Catholic School in Omaha, Nebraska, is incorporating CRS Operation Rice Bowl into her weekly religion curriculum throughout Lent. Every Tuesday, she and her students use Google Earth™ to find a new CRS-supported country. With other students from across the country who are also participating in the program, Gilman's students hear personal stories from the poorest people overseas and how student support of CRS is making a difference.

"Third-graders are generally very empathetic," Gilman says. "These materials really hit home for them."

Many of Gilman's students have brought their lessons home to share with their family. Some of her students help their parents prepare simple meals on Fridays using recipes found on the CRS Operation Rice Bowl website. Just the other week, the Vietnamese vegetable spring rolls were a hit.

Students at St. Margaret Mary put small donations and change into their cardboard rice bowls throughout the Lenten season. A week before Easter, students carry the rice bowls to the altar at Mass to celebrate what they've accomplished during Lent.

This parish community, like so many across the United States, is committed to living out its Catholic faith by helping poor men, women and children overseas through their support of CRS.

"We know that CRS does a lot of good work around the world," says Gilman. "We appreciate how you're in so many areas, and how you work one-on-one with families and villages. It's not just giving money—it's giving education."

Patrick Carney is a CRS writer, editor and web producer. He is based in Baltimore, Maryland.

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