Letters to soldiers

Issue: Volume 95, Number 4

Posted: 7 March 2016
Reference #: 1H9d0k

Letters from children attending a small South Island school are making their way to war zones, thanks to an idea hatched by their teacher just before Christmas last year.

The soldiers who received the letters, all serving in countries ranging from Iraq and Afghanistan to Korea and the Middle East, were delighted to receive the mail and are looking forward to more correspondence from Kiwi kids.

The idea of writing to New Zealand service personnel serving overseas came from Clutha Valley School teacher Jane McCulloch. Two classrooms of children from her rural school (Year 2–3 and Year 7–8) compiled a ‘random act of kindness’ calendar in December. Jane suggested they might like to write letters to troops who were deployed a long way from home, and wish them a Happy Christmas.

The New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) liked the idea because it knows soldiers always like to hear from home, especially at Christmas, and most were serving in harsh, inhospitable places. Many had children of their own and wanted to hear about what was going on in their lives.

From a learning point of view, the letter writing encouraged literacy, and covered social studies and current affairs. It was also an opportunity for the children to learn about the role the NZDF plays in the world, deployment locations, and what service personnel do.

“Many children automatically think of weapons and tanks when they think of soldiers, but those aspects are only a very small part of what we do,” an NZDF spokeswoman said. “Much of our work overseas is based on peacekeeping and humanitarian assistance and, for example in Iraq and Afghanistan, training.”

Jane said the children were enthusiastic about writing letters and sending cards, especially after they had watched a video of the soldiers at work. She encouraged them to write about what they were looking forward to at Christmas and over the school holidays, and to tell the soldiers about themselves and their families.

“As a class we talked about what we like doing at Christmas time and then we talked about how these soldiers would be away from their families. My children were Year 2 and 3 and we looked up some of the facts about the countries we have soldiers in. We talked about how far away these countries are.”

She said the class viewed the New Zealand Army’s Facebook page and watched a video of a recent training exercise that had soldiers from different countries working together. “This helped the children see that the soldiers are working to help people in different countries.”

The children drew pictures on their letters and cards, and many of the messages were about what the soldiers would be eating, whether they would get presents, and if they miss their families.

“The children were really excited to be doing something nice for people who are helping others.”

Lieutenant Colonel Ruth Putze who heads New Zealand’s contingent of peacekeepers in Lebanon said it was fantastic to get so many cards and letters from the children. “Many of the comments made us laugh and think about our own families back home. There was one letter that really struck a chord with one of our officers, so much that she carried it around with her until the end of her mission because it made her smile every time she read it! She now has it with her back in New Zealand."

“For all the ones we received in Lebanon that had a return address, we made sure to write a reply. Unfortunately, because of the delays with mail they may not get them for a few more weeks yet.”

Lieutenant Colonel Bede Fahey, who heads the 26-strong contingent of New Zealanders serving in the Sinai in Egypt, said his deployment was working in an environment that could be stressful, with at times quite intense military activity going on around us day and night. “Those pressures impact more around Christmas time when people are a long way from their loved ones and the normality of being at home. Receiving the letters was a welcome boost. The unreserved good wishes, the optimism and the humour from these young Kiwis is always appreciated and has a special meaning for those of us with kids of our own.”

Lieutenant Colonel Melanie Childs, who has served in Afghanistan and East Timor and is about to deploy to Sudan, said as a mother of two school-aged children she understood the importance of encouraging children to practise their literacy skills. “What better way for school children to practise these skills than through writing to deployed troops and learning about the country and the culture of where our forces are serving."

“The NZDF is a ‘force for New Zealand’ and educating our children about our role and how we make a positive difference around the world is not only broadening their social and geographical knowledge but can be a vehicle for discussing values such as comradeship, courage, commitment and integrity – many of which form the basis of so many school mottos.”

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero, reporter@edgazette.govt.nz

Posted: 8:37 pm, 7 March 2016

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