Nikiski boy's 4-H medal project goes global

Getting book smart

Posted: Tuesday, October 22, 2002

Eleven-year-old Walker Boyle is working to help one big problem in a place far away -- and so far people have been more than willing to help.

His 4-H project goal is to collect 400 children's books to send to elementary school students in Madina Village, Papua New Guinea.

"4-H is teaching kids there is a bigger world -- with more problems than here," said Debbie Boyle, Walker's mother.

The Nikiski Funky Farmers 4-H Club, to which Walker belongs, is supported by the state government through the University of Alaska Fairbanks and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Private businesses, individuals and foundations also provide support.

Walker Boyle is looking for people who would like to give children's books or donations to pay for shipping the books to Madina Village, Papua New Guinea.

Walker came up with the idea as a 4-H project. He is a member of the Nikiski Funky Farmers 4-H Club.

Drop-off points for book donations for the Madina Village project include the following schools:

Brian Bailey's room at Mountain View Elementary in Kenai.

Brian Bailey's room at North Star Elementary in Nikiski.

Matt Boyle's room at Nikiski Elementary.

Also, an account at Alaska USA Credit Union is set up for cash donations under Funky Farmers 4-H Club -- Madina Village Book Drive.

In his first week, he collected 208 books from mostly relatives. Now, the word is out at Kenai Peninsula schools, and the response is positive.

West Homer Elementary cleaned out a storage area and found some English textbooks, reading books and health books; the school is sending nine boxes of educational books to Walker.

At this point, Walker said he believes he will probably get more than the original goal of 400.

"I underestimated it," he said.

Walker is one of the first people to send children's books to the village.

However, he did not randomly choose Madina Village as the destination for the books.

His uncle, Craig Volker, holds a doctorate in linguistics and spent several years interacting and speaking with elders in the village in order to preserve the Nalik language before it died.

Volker actually created a Nalik writing system about 15 years ago, Debbie said.

Previously the teachers at the schools taught in English to grades one through six, but the language was foreign to the students.

With Volker's system, the village started a day care and kindergarten, which both teach Nalik. Then there is a government Nalik Language Elementary School that has a prep year and grades one and two. The students start learning English in grade two. From there they go to the government community school for grades three through six, which are all taught in English.

The children now learn to read in their own language and then bridge into English, Volker said in a letter to Walker.

"These are good changes, with academic results and student interest in schooling improving greatly," Volker said.

However, all of the recent changes in the village aren't good. The country's economy has dropped. The average wage is only $250 U.S. dollars a year.

The amount of money given to the village schools from the government also has decreased.

"All this means is no books," Volker said.

If one U.S. school had each student bring one used book, the goal of 400 books would be reached. That's more books than the village's current budget could buy in a decade, Walker said about how they came up with the goal.

The books needed most are young children's books, such as preschool level without words, or books under a third-grade reading level.

The teachers plan to either adapt the younger children's books to Nalik, by translating the words, or use the books as they are for teaching English.

Walker now realizes he will probably exceed his goal, with Seward, Nikiski, West Homer, North Star and Sterling elementary schools and Kenai Middle School all interested in helping educate children across the world.

"We can overcome having too many books," Debbie said.

But one question persists.

How will Walker pay to have the books shipped to Madina Village?

It costs $38.50 to ship 11 pounds to the village. A small box full of books weighs around 40 pounds.

Walker is working on appealing to different organizations that might be interested in donating money to help pay for shipping; such as the Soroptimists, Lions, Rotary and Elks clubs.

By completing a public presentation, community service, displaying his project at the Ninilchik fair and keeping an accurate record of a project he spends at least six hours on, Walker will meet the requirements for a 4-H District Medal.

He will have spent well over six hours on this project.

To achieve the District Medal, 4-H members can pick any subject area that interests them to do a project on.

The club includes a lot of other things besides animals, Walker said.

4-H performs services beyond the community, said Nancy Veal, 4-H youth development agent for the UAF Cooperative Extension Service.

The club has worked with countries such as Russia and Japan in international farm youth exchanges, but Walker's project is different.

"It's personally motivated, not sponsored by 4-H, but as a project," Veal said. "He saw a need and is filling it."

The club encourages community service -- in this case, global community service, Debbie said.

Walker is helping children receive an education and is becoming educated about the world in doing so.

"It is a great help for the students to be able just to hold a book and learn what a great feeling that is," Volker said.

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