CHAMPAIGN – Augustina Sayon has been through more hardship than a first-grader should go through. But instead of dwelling on the past, she just wants to help other children.
Several area Rotary clubs run a Pennies-For-Polio fund-raising campaign to eradicate polio and other childhood diseases around the world. Born in the West African country of Liberia, Augustina, 6, knew of children her age battling the disease, which is caused by a virus and can result in paralysis and death. Polio is active in seven countries worldwide, said Champaign Rotary Club President Bob Aldridge. When she heard about the drive Wednesday, Augustina pulled out a crumpled dollar bill to give to her first-grade teacher, Bev Pridemore. It was all the money she had.
"It made me want to cry because she is such a good girl," said Pridemore, on the brink of tears while telling the story Thursday morning.
Augustina arrived June 27 in Champaign, where her grandparents relocated several years ago after leaving Africa. She was accompanied by her father, two siblings, two aunts and three cousins. The family arrived here after spending some time in Ghana at a refugee camp. Her family had fled the civil war in Liberia to Ghana, where her mother still remains.
Augustina, a very shy girl, remembers playing with her friends, but also hearing about sick children.
"I wanted to put some (money) in to help the kids," hoping the money would find its way to her country, she said, speaking in a soft voice.
"I didn't understand why she was so passionate," said Pridemore, before hearing the story. "I now understand."
Since then, she has also read a story Augustina wrote about how much she missed her mother and loved God.
"I want my children to be as giving," said Pam Chambers, the first-grade afternoon teacher. "Our children don't know what sickness looks like."
Chambers learned about Augustina's life in Africa Thursday from Deborah Hlavna, co-director of the East Central Illinois Refugee and Mutual Assistance Center, 302 S. Birch St., U. A school liaison from the organization works with the first-grader every Friday.
Hlavna said she is working on paperwork with Augustina's father to bring her mother overseas.
"When the paperwork was originally filled, they didn't know if she was alive or dead so she was not listed," she added.
Many of the children thought their pennies, dimes and dollars were insignificant when collected individually. But then teachers showed them a large jar, filled with their contributions, including Augustina's crumpled dollar.
"It was a testament of how children's hearts are full. I don't think she ever considered giving part of what she had," added Martha Henss, enrichment specialist at Carrie Busey. "She gave it all."
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