By Angie Landsverk
When Melano Durmishidze decided to collect items for an orphanage in her home country, little did she know just how many items she would receive.
More than 20,000 items were donated and will be shipped to the orphange around the same time she heads home.
“Realizing you’re helping somebody over the ocean is a cool thing,” said Durmishidze, who is an exchange student this school year at Weyauwega-Fremont High School.
Durmishidze is from Tbilisi in the country of Georgia. She arrived here on Aug. 7 and leaves on June 4.
She is an exchange student through FLEX (Future Leaders Exchange Program).
The program includes a community service requirement of approximately 20 hours.
“She wanted to go above and beyond (service requirement). She’s in FFA and was talking to the FFA kids. They thought it would be a good idea to help,” said Sandy Dykes, W-F’s FFA adviser.
The discussion began earlier this year.
“There are very few people who know Georgia is a country,” Durmishidze said. “FFA is about leadership, so Sandy said we could do it together.”
Dykes said, “She went to the national convention (in October). It opened her eyes that it’s not just about farms. She thought why not only collect things for an orphanage but teach people here that Georgia exists.”
As Durmishidze thought about volunteering in the community, she thought about her host family. She is staying with Joann and Grant Miller, and their children Garret, Gavin and Madison.
“Because the Millers take such good care of me, I thought about children who don’t have that,” Durmishidze said.
She was not yet in kindergarten when she saw others in need of help.
Durmishidze’s mother would give her a coin to give to those who might ask her for help.
That is why she decided to collect items for an orphanage in Salkhino, Georgia.
Durmishidze has been to the orphange and thus knew what it would need most.
From March 17 until April 4, the students collected gently used clothes, shoes, books and toys.
Georgia is a small country at the border of Europe and Asia.
Durmishidze was joined by her fellow FFA members in visiting elementary classrooms in the W-F School District, where she did presentations about the country.
They called the project Generosity for Georgia from the USA, and Durmishidze said any items that cannot be used by the orphanage will be donated to local charities.
“The kids in the elementary school will be writing letters to ‘my unknown friend,’” she said.
Dykes said, “Melano chose the orphange that has the least.”
About 180 children ranging in age from 5 to 18 live there.
Blankets, stuffed animals, books and winter hats, coats and boots are among the items that were donated.
Some of the clothing that was donated was new and still had tags.
There were incentive prizes for the elementary students.
“Each room had a map,” Dykes said. “One-hundred items was for ice cream sandwiches, 200 for sundaes and 300 for pizza.”
The FFA chapter paid for 18 pizzas, she said.
Now, Durmishidze needs help covering the cost of shipping all of the items to Georgia.
She is putting some of her spending money toward the cost, and the FFA chapter will also contribute.
Those who would like to help pay for the shipping may email Dykes at email@example.com or call her at the high school at 920-867-8911.
“She had no idea we would get this much,” Dykes said.
Dykes said the experience resulted in local students realizing how much they have.
Durmishidze appreciates those who supported the project.
“Thank you a lot, and hopefully, after this, they will know Georgia is a country,” she said with a smile.