Jacob Stark has plenty to smile about: After he drew a heart as part of an online competition to help African kids who need heart surgery, classmates and teachers at the Sheridan School joined in Jacob’s effort. (Tracy A. Woodward/The Washington Post)

Jacob Stark drew a heart to heal a heart. The Bethesda 8-year-old entered a contest to help sick kids in Africa. But like the paper heart he created, which shows people around a globe holding hands, his winning entry is about more than one boy. Jacob got his teacher, then his class, then his school, then his relatives and even people he didn’t know to help change lives of kids thousands of miles away. And Jacob is just one of many local kids who are thinking globally.


Jacob heard about the contest on Kids Place Live, a program on SiriusXM Radio. The channel had joined with the Take Heart organization in Africa to dream up La La Love, a competition that asked kids to create a picture of their heart. The “HeartArt” would be posted online, and friends and relatives of the artist could donate money for kids in Kenya who need heart surgery. The artwork that raised the most money would win a prize.

Jacob said that he didn’t know a lot about Africa before the contest.

“I knew that Africa is a little bit less fortunate than here in the United States,” he said.

Jacob read stories online about kids that Take Heart had helped, and he started discussing the contest at the Sheridan School in Washington, where he’s a third-grader. He talked to a few teachers, who told the art teachers. They settled on making a mobile of hearts and got the entire school involved.

Fourth-graders at Tuckahoe Elementary School in Arlington listen to Katie Smith Milway read her book, "Mimi's Village," which has inspired children to help needy kids in other countries. (Dayna Smith/For The Washington Post)

“Every single child was really into it,” said Emily Greene, one of Jacob’s art teachers. “We had kids stay in from recess to make a heart.”

In one week, students made 244 hearts, from which Jacob, his mom, Stefanie Stark, and his sister, Chloe, 5, created a 31 / 2-foot-tall mobile. The colorful hearts hang from ribbons; a jingle bell is attached to each string of hearts.

Jacob’s family sent photos of the mobile to La La Love. “We told all of our relatives,” Jacob said. “Lots of people put it on Facebook.”

The donations came from near and far: Sheridan families, an aunt in England, a former Sheridan teacher in Guam. And Jacob put in $20.

“I didn’t think I was going to raise that much,” he said. “Maybe $200 or $300.”

The donations climbed from the hundreds into the thousands, and a last-day surge pushed Jacob’s total to $5,520, which made him the top fundraiser. (Lauren Allen, 6, and her sister Erin, 4, of Alexandria won fourth place with $1,360 raised.) As a prize, Jacob’s school will get a concert from Kids Place Live’s Robbie Schaefer. Because the 275 art projects made by kids from across the United States raised more than $33,000, 13 children in Africa will receive heart surgery.

Inspiring stories

A contest inspired Jacob, but a series of books about kids in Africa and Central America has encouraged other Washington area students to help people in need overseas.

Katie Smith Milway’s book "One Hen.”

Author Katie Smith Milway wrote a book in 2008 called “One Hen,” a story of Kojo, a boy in the African country of Ghana who uses part of his mother’s loan from their fellow villagers to buy a hen.

The hen’s eggs provide food for the boy and his mother. Soon he has extra eggs to sell. Within a year, Kojo has 25 hens and has saved enough money to go to school. After he finishes college, Kojo uses his savings from the hens to buy a farm. The chickens produce lots of eggs, and the farm grows. What started as a few coins to buy one hen ends up creating jobs for people all over Ghana.

Smith Milway, who had worked in Africa and Latin America for 10 years, read the story at many schools and encouraged students to learn about microfinance, or lending small amounts of money to people who are too poor to get a loan from a bank.

Carolyn Cohen, a teacher at the Bullis School in Potomac, heard about the book and used it two years ago with her third-graders.

“We talked about that need to help others who have less,” Cohen said. “About how amazing the story is, because a small loan helped people who then helped other people.”

The students took the example of Kojo — who is based on a real chicken farmer in Ghana — and started a bracelet-making business. They got a loan from the school to buy leather bands, which they decorated. Then they advertised to fellow students and family members to set up shop in the school.

“It was a big success,” Cohen said. “We paid back the school . . . and then they talked about where they wanted this money to go.”

Students sent the more than $100 they earned to Kiva, a organization that gives small loans to people in 67 countries. Bullis is planning another bracelet-making fundraiser this year, Cohen said.

The success of “One Hen” encouraged Smith Milway to write two more children’s books, the latest one about health issues in Africa. She read the book, “Mimi’s Village,” recently to students at Tuckahoe Elementary School in Arlington.

In the book, a girl gets sick after drinking unclean water.

“Do you know that two-thirds of the world has to worry about that?” Smith Milway asked the students.

The cure for the girl’s dehydration is clean water mixed with a salt-and-sugar packet. Smith Milway asked the kids what they thought the packet would cost. “Ten dollars?” one girl guessed. “Two dollars?” called out another.

The answer: Eight cents.

Smith Milway used the example to explain that even small amounts of money can save hundreds of people in Africa from dehydration and deadly diseases such as malaria. Several students told her they have done just that.

“I raised, like, eight bucks,” said Ben Porter, a fifth-grader, who asked for donations for the United Nations Children’s Fund while going door-to-door on Halloween. Tuckahoe students collected almost $645 last fall through the Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF program.

“What an impact you can have with coins and pennies,” Smith Milway said. “Kids have power to do really good things.”

TO DO: Ways kids can help

Christina Barron