San Diego Jewish Academy students in Carmel Valley holding used clothing drive to help students in Rwanda


By Karen Billing

San Diego Jewish Academy students in Amy Civin’s eighth grade English class are getting an education on how they can change the world. While going through Civin’s curriculum that incorporates the inspirational book “The Freedom Writers Diary” that empowers students to reach their full potential, they decided they want to give that lesson of empowerment to students a world away through a fundraiser called Project Rwanda.

The class is seeking donations through the end of May to fill a 45-foot, “ginormous” container on campus with used clothing. The clothing will be given to Good Thrift, which buys the clothing in bulk for $3,000 and distributes it to local San Diego nonprofits in need.

That $3,000 will then be turned around to buy books and supplies for their beneficiary school in Rwanda.

“This is our way to give back, things are not as easy there,” Civin said. “We believe in this curriculum so much, it’s all about giving kids their voice.”

The eighth graders hosted a dance-a-thon last Thursday to kick off their Project Rwanda efforts. DJ Mike Langford donated his time to keep the students dancing all night, as well as brought in his advanced hip hop dance students from Royal Dance Academy as entertainment. Raquel Mussali, an SDJA parent and Zumba instructor, led the students in Zumba routines.

Admission was $5 and a bag of clothes to get the drive kicked off — they were able to raise $350 and fill up the container some but they still have plenty of room for community donations.

“We’re hoping to spread the word and fill it up,” said Civin. “Everyone benefits from this.”

Last summer, Civin was one of 25 teachers across the country selected to participate in the 2012 Freedom Writers Institute in Long Beach, led by teacher Erin Gruwell, whom Civin called a “powerful speaker, inspirational educator and catalyst for social change.” Gruwell took students who were labeled “unteachable” and “below average” and encouraged them to use their voices to become the Freedom Writers, writing about their experiences. The resulting book was ‘The Freedom Writers Diary” and all of those students went on to attend college. Gruwell went on to found the Freedom Writers Foundation and her story was even told in a 2007 movie starring Hilary Swank.

As part of its Freedom Writers curriculum, SDJA has been communicating with Rwandan teacher Issa Sikubwabo and his students, a teacher Civin met at the Institute. Sikubwabo teaches at a school in the Agahozo Shalom Youth Village, a village for young people orphaned by the Rwandan genocide in 1994.

While SDJA was able to purchase the books and curriculum-support materials needed to incorporate Freedom Writers into the classroom, Sikubwabo’s school lacked the necessary funding.

That’s where SDJA students hope to step in.

“We were really inspired by the Freedom Writers,” said student Gabbie Burkholtz.“We wanted to find a way to raise the money to buy them the books and supplies.”

Civin said the Freedom Writers program encourages her students to have a voice and use their voices to get things done. They came up with Project Rwanda on their own and while they know they have a long way to go, they are confident they will meet their goals.

As student Stephanie Weinstein said, they are taking to heart the lesson to “Be the change you want to see in the world.”

“The students are learning what they can do to leave an impact,” Civin said. “We’re a little school but our kids have a big heart and a big drive. It’s a strong community. When people are asked to step up, everyone does.”

To donate to the Project Rwanda clothing drive, drop off well-tied plastic garbage bags to SDJA at 11860 Carmel Creek Road, San Diego, 92130. Pick-ups may be arranged. For more information, contact Amy Civin at