Youth raises money to build special needs classroom in Botswana

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CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (NEWSPLEX) -- An area 12-year-old is working hard to help kids with disabilities on the other side of the world.

St. Anne's Belfield student Gabriel Pullen explained why he is raising money to build a classroom in Botswana.

Sitting in his own classroom, Gabriel said the special needs classroom he visited in Botswana was just eight feet by five feet. Big enough to fit four students at most.

"They have a lot of kids with learning disabilities in Africa," Gabriel said.

Gabriel and his mother Paige Pullen traveled to sub-Saharan Africa for work Paige was doing with special needs education. During the trip, the two visited Bonnington Jr. Secondary School.

It was at Bonnington that Gabriel saw firsthand how children who had disabilities were learning.

Bonnington has about 50 kids with disabilities that range from physical handicaps to problems learning how to read.

While visiting, Gabriel learned the principal of the school was trying to build a new classroom for the students. He decided to help, and returned to the United States to raise $10,000.

"We have the space to do it and we've gotten some of the bricks so far," Gabriel said. "We got the first load the same day that we talked about building it. And we got the plans in. So we know how much it costs to build."

"I'm extremely proud of him," reflected Paige. She said Gabriel first traveled to Africa when he was eight, and even then, Gabriel wanted to find a way to help the schools he was visiting.

Raising money to build a new special needs classroom is Gabriel's biggest project, though.

"This classroom idea was completely his idea. We were sitting in the principal's office at Bonnington," recalled Paige. "He leaned over to me and said 'Mom, would it be okay if I raised money to build this classroom?'"

Gabriel is the type of advocate many teachers and students at Bonnington need.

"They need somebody with a heart to assist them so that they can also make it in life," one teacher at Bonnington said about her students with special needs.

In developing countries especially, providing services for students with disabilities can be difficult. The difficulty is reflected in the mortality rates of children.

"The mortality rate in the developing world is 80 percent by age five, so many kids with disabilities won't make it until their fifth birthday," Paige said.

"These kids deserve much more than what they get," Gabriel added.

So far, the GoFundMe page Gabriel has set up for the classroom has raised just over $6,700. Gabriel said if the page raises more than $10,000, the extra money will be used to buy supplies, musical instruments and bring teachers over to the United States to get training in special education.

Gabriel said he is determined to raise the money, adding that he will do a fundraiser concert at a golf club in Botswana if the page does not make enough by the time he leaves for Africa in June.

"Those kids, you want them to be able to succeed and grow to be successful people in their later lives," Gabriel said. "But without a classroom and without materials, they can't do that."

To donate to Gabriel's GoFundMe page, you can click on the link in the Related Links box.

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