Those were some of the weighty questions directed toward the third-, fourth- and fifth-graders at Munford Elementary School on Friday by members of the organization Students Rebuild. The group, which has been traveling through the United States for nearly nine months as part of its One Million Bones social awareness project focusing on countries facing humanitarian crises, made their only stop in Alabama on Friday afternoon.
The idea behind the project is to send a visual message to the world about the horrors of genocide.
“One Million Bones was started by an artist in Albuquerque, N.M.,” said Munford Elementary School art teacher Abby Kuhn, who organized Friday’s event. “The idea was to make a display of all these bones representing the lives lost in these countries.”
Kuhn said she found out about the project through social media, connecting with other art teachers around the country. Kuhn said she got some of her students involved in the project in the fall, making clay bones as a way to teach them about the lives lost through humanitarian crises in Somalia and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
“Sometimes having that visual, that’s more powerful than a speech or writing a letter,” Kuhn said. “You can see the weight of what it is we’re talking about.”
The students Friday got another shot at making bones — this time out of newspaper and masking tape. The lighter, less-fragile material will make transporting the bones a bit easier. Next month the bones created by the Munford students will join similar bones created by students all over the country for a national display of genocide awareness on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. Each bone on display will raise $1 donated by the Bezos Family Foundation toward a school in the countries of Somalia and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Stephanie Roberts and Eric Hall, on-tour fellows from the Students Rebuild organization, gave a 45-minute presentation about the conditions for students in those countries, asking the Munford students how their lives differed from their counterparts on the other side of the world. Roberts said it’s toned down from the presentations they typically give at high schools and middle schools.
“We don’t really focus so much on the conflict, but the effects of those conflicts,” Roberts said. “We get them to think about what kids their age are going through in these countries.”
But even at a young age, Hall said, students connect with the organization’s messages, and said he’s often surprised by the level of engagement and the questions he’s asked.
“When we go to elementary schools we always get nervous, like what do we say?” Hall said. “But I think we underestimate kids sometimes and their ability to connect with their peers and with lives around the world.”
Kuhn said she thinks it’s important for her students to be aware of what’s going on in the world, and said she hopes the project inspires them to try to help in any way they can.
Judging by the crowded gymnasium full of strewn newspaper and loose tape Friday afternoon, the students were eager to help out anyway they could.
“I really felt bad for all those people who lost their lives,” said fifth-grader Camden Lindsey after watching a video during the presentation showing the original bones project in New Mexico. “That was a lot of bones, and each one was someone who died.”
Kuhn said it’s doubtful the students will get a chance to see the One Million Bones display in Washington this summer, but she hopes to use media coverage from the event to open up discussion when students return to school in the fall.
Staff writer Brian Anderson: 256-235-3546. On Twitter @BAnderson_Star.