December 14, 2004: Headlines: COS - Kyrgyzstan: The Daily Times: Brian Cowan is a Peace Corps volunteer now serving in Orgochor, a village in Kyrgyzstan, a former Soviet Republic in Central Asia

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Kyrgyzstan: Peace Corps Kyrgyzstan : The Peace Corps in Kyrgyzstan: December 14, 2004: Headlines: COS - Kyrgyzstan: The Daily Times: Brian Cowan is a Peace Corps volunteer now serving in Orgochor, a village in Kyrgyzstan, a former Soviet Republic in Central Asia

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Brian Cowan is a Peace Corps volunteer now serving in Orgochor, a village in Kyrgyzstan, a former Soviet Republic in Central Asia

Brian Cowan is a Peace Corps volunteer now serving in Orgochor, a village in Kyrgyzstan, a former Soviet Republic in Central Asia

Brian Cowan is a Peace Corps volunteer now serving in Orgochor, a village in Kyrgyzstan, a former Soviet Republic in Central Asia

MHS donates books to Kyrgyz students
by Melanie Tucker
of The Daily Times Staff

A group of Maryville High School students has given their all on a project for a graduate they never knew in a land they knew little about.

The seniors are members of Diane Rutherford's senior transition class, and the MHS graduate is Brian Cowan, a Peace Corps volunteer now serving in Orgochor, a village in Kyrgyzstan, a former Soviet Republic in Central Asia.

Cowan has been in Kyrgyzstan for 15 months, teaching English to the Russian middle and high school students in this poor village of about 2,500 people. Cowan, who has kept in touch with MHS teachers since graduating in 1997, sent an e-mail that has resulted in a major book drive that has astounded Rutherford and also Brian's mom, Peggy Cowan.

A visit to Rutherford's class last week revealed the magnitude of the project. The participating seniors have collected thousands of books which have all been sorted, packed in boxes and stacked, ready for shipping. At last count, there were over 7,100 books.

We can help

The second period senior transition class decided to hold the book drive because Cowan has few teaching materials available to him; he makes many of his teaching tools. His blackboard is a piece of painted wood.

``We decided as a group that we wanted to help Brian,'' said senior Adam Parnell. ``It seemed like he really needed these books.''

Brian had expressed a need also for athletic equipment and sound equipment, but the class decided books would be their focus. They went into every second period class, explained Brian's situation and even made a contest out of it.

``Everywhere we went, we told Brian's story,'' senior Katelea Burkhart said. ``That just made it more heartfelt.''

Parnell said it was their original intention to get other schools involved in collecting books. He said they had planned to really get the word out.

``We were going to radio stations and just broadcast it everywhere we could to bring in as many books as possible. In the end, our school brought in every single book.''

Loraine Cook said making it a contest definitely developed some interest. She said first place is a pizza party, while second place winners get doughnuts. The third place classroom will be treated to candy.

``The books started coming in the next day, after we talked to them,'' Cook said. There are children's books, young adult, adult and textbooks, she said.

Peggy Cowan said the president of Kyrgyzstan has made English a requirement for all students. There are 60-plus Peace Corps volunteers spread throughout the country lending their English skills. Brian will be in Kyrgyzstan until Christmas 2005.

``It's hard to have him that far from home but it is a wonderful experience,'' she said. ``I think he will be overwhelmed at the extent of this. He was thrilled when he found out someone was willing to work with him.''

More join in

While the second period senior transition class has put its energies into book collecting, the first period class was called in to help when postage became a real issue. It is costing the students $10 to ship 24 pounds of books. Members of first period were able to raise $400, even though they had their own project to work on.

Parnell gives lots of credit for the success of this project to the teachers, too. He said they pushed students to really get involved, with some even offering extra credit to take part.

Senior Jen Bell, a member of the second period class, said giving the book drive a personal touch was a brilliant decision. Instead of just hanging up posters and reading announcements over the intercom, they went into every classroom.

``Announcements are made five minutes before school is out,'' Bell said. ``Nobody is listening.''

Parnell said he just hopes Cowan can use what is being sent. He said the collection ranges from Dr. Seuss to Mark Twain.

Brian's mom said he may be able to establish a library in the village using books that are leftover.

Using boxes that senior Aaron Hord provided, most of the books were packaged and ready for shipment last week. Rutherford said she didn't know if there was enough to cover postage or not.

``I was really worried about the postage,'' Bell said. ``I will chip in myself if we can't send them all.''

The word is out

Brian's mom made a donation toward postage, as have several businesses and churches in the area, including Tommy Spears, Cate-Russell Insurance, Realtor David Talley, American Fidelity Bank, the youth group at First United Methodist Church and Darrell Tipton of Realty III. Fairview United Methodist Church has also donated.

Bell admitted she had no idea how this thing would blossom.

``I just though we would get a small amount of books and pack them and send them on their way,'' she said.

Burkhart said she felt passionate about it from the beginning. ``I was going to do it if nobody else did,'' she said.

Others in this second period senior transition class who worked hard on the project included Jay Hageman and Jesse Miles. First period class members who also did a wonderful job include Amber Ladner, Jonathan Wallace, Christen Kardatzke, Heather Barone, Stephanie Bales and Rasha Mohamed.

Another group at MHS had previously tried a book drive and failed to collect even one. Parnell said he heard about that just as this book drive was underway. Needless to say he was a little nervous.

``That first day after we made the announcements, a girl came up to me with a bag of books and said, `Here you go.' ... They were ready to go with it.''

Peggy said anytime a package arrives in Brian's village, it is a huge event. The whole town turns out to see what it is. ``Imagine what it is going to be like when this stuff shows up,'' she said.

Cowan, who teaches at Maryville College, said she is totally amazed at how things have fallen into place and at how hard these seniors have worked.

``Brian was thrilled when you all took this on,'' she said. ``I am enormously impressed. He is going to be ecstatic.''

When this story was posted in December 2004, this was on the front page of PCOL:

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Story Source: The Daily Times

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