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Kazakhstan receives Alabama school's gift

By Ben Evans
Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON — An Alabama elementary school did its part for international diplomacy Tuesday by dispatching a congressman with a $2,400 gift to the embassy of Kazakhstan for a cancer hospital in the former Soviet republic.

Kazakhstan's U.S. ambassador responded by pledging to visit the state and said he hopes the gift from Dodge Elementary School in Mobile marks the beginning of a long-lasting friendship.

"We will make sure the people in Kazakhstan know about this," Ambassador Erlan A. Idrissov said as Rep. Jo Bonner, a Mobile Republican, presented the school's check at the nation's embassy in Washington.

"It's not the amount of money that matters. It is their passion and their hearts."

Students at Dodge Elementary raised the money as part of a "Coins for Cancer" fund drive that stretched over several years.

Teacher Janet Leffard said the idea of donating to Kazakhstan came out of the school's gifted-student curriculum in which students focus their
studies around particular regions of the world. This year, Russia and the former Soviet republics were the chosen countries.

In her research, Leffard learned that Kazakhstan is struggling with high cancer rates after being used as a Soviet nuclear weapons testing site during the Cold War.

Leffard and her students decided to donate part of their receipts from the fund drive to the Semipalatinsk Oncology Center, which is in a particularly hard-hit area.

The students set up big water jugs for coin donations. Parents and teachers pitched in, and the school held an art contest with a $1 entry fee.

Collecting more than $7,000, they also donated $2,400 each to the USS Hope cancer center at the University of South Alabama Children's and Women's Hospital and to a children's cancer fund in England, Leffard said.

"It was a big collective effort," Leffard said.

Bonner said the school's gift comes on behalf of all the people of Alabama and "with a lot of love for the children of your country."

Idrissov said he planned to visit Dodge Elementary soon on a trip through the Southeast that also could include stops in Louisiana and Texas.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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