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Students raise $5,000 through coffee donations for Burundi library

Eighth graders at Saint John School raise money for a Burundi library through coffee donations. Left to right: Skylar Demers, Kaylee Yokota and Hannah Blackburn.
Eighth graders at Saint John School raise money for a Burundi library through coffee donations. Left to right: Skylar Demers, Kaylee Yokota and Hannah Blackburn.
( / Courtesy photo)

Saint John School in Encinitas is known for giving back to the local community, but its philanthropic reach extends as far away as Burundi.

A soon-to-be built library in Burundi will be named after Saint John School as thanks to students there securing $5,000 for the project.

Saint John students in October collected donations for Burundi coffee and gave the proceeds to Burundi Friends International (BFI), a San Diego nonprofit dedicated to fighting poverty in the east African country. Construction on the Saint John Library will take place this summer.

To gain donations, students made signs, went car-to-car during school pickup times and staffed a table at a fall festival. The suggested donation for each coffee bag was $20, but many gave more.

“People there don’t have as much as we do, so I think it says a lot that people here gave money to help them out,” said eighth grader Kaylee Yokota.

Julie Marner, president and chair of fundraising for BFI, said the library will “empower Burundi’s future by giving its youth a backbone of education.”

Marner said Burundians primarily speak Kirundi, French and Swahili, but the library will help more learn English, the language neighboring countries speak when it comes to business and regional government matters.

“Burundi needs to quickly evolve with the rest of the EAC (East African Community) if it is to get out of poverty,” she said, adding it’s the hungriest country in the world as measured by the Global Hunger Index.

Marner, who is also the music director at Saint John Church, proposed that Saint John School fundraise for BFI.

Eighth graders took her up on the idea.

For the school’s Faith in Action program, different grade levels decide on a cause to lend a hand to, primarily during school hours.

Eighth grader Lucca Fabani said the school has a history of helping the local community, and his class also wanted to aid those abroad.

“We did this to express our faith toward those who need it,” Fabani said.

Other Faith in Action projects this year included food drives for Brother Benno’s, coordinating fundraisers for childhood cancer research and toy drives for the Ronald McDonald House.

“They’re student led and initiated projects, which has been great, because they embrace it so much more,” said teacher Teresa Roberts, who leads the Faith in Action program.

“The whole community was moved by their efforts,” Roberts said of the library fundraising.

Besides books, the library will have student-created cards and mini-bios showing what life is like locally.

“People in Burundi can see what Saint John is all about,” Roberts said.

Roberts said BFI members brought the Burundi coffee beans back from a trip there, and Bird Rock Coffee in La Jolla roasted them. She described the coffee as “medium to strong and really good.”

A special visitor at Saint John School encouraged the students during their fundraising push.

Fabrice Bizimana, a BFI ambassador and Mandela Washington Fellowship award winner, spoke to students about the importance of people learning English in Burundi, his home country.

Seventh grader Emily Tulino interviewed him for the school’s newspaper, The Eagle Pride Publisher.

Tulino said she learned quite a bit from Bizimana, including that it “means a lot to him that we’re raising money.”


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