A Toy Story

Students at the Parachute Express Playschool in Victoria, British Columbia.


I have worked with EGPAF for nearly ten years, and whenever I travel to Africa for business, my two sons (ages 5 and 3) have looked at me with perplexed faces.

They can’t seem to quite grasp what I do in this very far away place, or how any of this may be relevant to their own lives.

Recently, the preschool my children attend in the city of Victoria, B.C. in Canada had an idea for a fundraiser to help EGPAF-supported play centers in Zimbabwe. These play centers were established in 2009 for orphans and HIV-infected/affected young children under the age of five. They provide psychosocial support and linkages to HIV care and treatment for children and their families.

The centers are located on church premises, major hospitals, and local clinics - 25 in total, serving more than 1,400 children in Zimbabwe.

Together, our preschool teachers and kids brainstormed and developed a donation  drive for toys and art supplies, with spectacular results.

Read a report from our preschool teacher - Natalie Shoemaker of Parachute Express Playschool - below: 

"In May 2012, the families and teachers of Parachute Express Playschool excitedly embarked on a toy drive entitled "Fill a Suitcase for a Friend" to help support the EGPAF-affiliated Play Centers in Zimbabwe, and fill it we did!!

We introduced our toy drive idea with our 3- to 5-year-old preschool children talking about how we could help others - trying to get the children to think outside of themselves and their immediate community.

Our preschool curriculum is heavily weighted in studies about our big world, so learning about Africa with stories, songs, music and art, as well as the use of our huge world wall map, was such a natural fit. Bringing a suitcase to school allowed us to play games imagining the wonderful items that we could place inside!!

The children in Ms. Shoemaker's class excited to help other kids halfway around the world.

As the toy donations rolled in, each little contributor showed the toys in our circle group, and talked about where the toys were going and why he/she chose those items.

Our preschool friends could be heard talking amongst themselves about Zimbabwe. One child would travel in our playground boat with his destination being Africa, while yet another requested African music to dance to. One little boy flying a toy plane flew it over to Zimbabwe pretending to drop toys off, while another child requested dancing to the beat of our djembe drum.

These small excerpts in our classroom life were our clue that the children were really internalizing our discussions and teachings. Many children peeked into the suitcase each week to see what new donations were made, and were excited to see the additions!

Parents reported wonderful learning experiences with their children as they shopped with them to make the toy purchases, encouraging discussions about sharing with others. Our children were learning the gift of giving, and for that we thank all of the little recipients of our toys!!

Our toy drive was designed to help other children a world away, but it turns out that we were the ones to receive a most wonderful present!"

I am thankful to Ms. Shoemaker and all of the families for this amazing toy drive and cultural learning experience.

On a personal note, my children now have a far greater understanding of how children live in other places around the world, and of the spirit of giving. We were also able to spread the word about this activity within our community, and received further donations from local toy and sports stores.

I am now en route to Zimbabwe with two huge suitcases filled with these new toys, art supplies, soccer balls, puzzles and books to donate.

To complete this cultural exchange, we’ll soon have a blog from Zimbabwe about the young children who will be happily receiving this toy delivery.

Joanna Robinson is the Foundation’s Agreement Manager, based in Victoria, British Columbia in Canada. This donation of toys is being made as a private individual arrangement.