Bringing children in Baraboo and Cuba together Print
Written by Korie Klink, For the Catholic Herald   
Tuesday, May. 22, 2012 -- 12:00 AM

“Only the human person, created in the image and likeness of God, is capable of raising a hymn of praise and thanksgiving to the Creator. The earth, with all its creatures, and the entire universe call on man to be their voice.”

Pope John Paul II — Homily, San Antonio, Texas 1987

Students in Cuba (above) show artwork they received from students at St. Joseph School in Baraboo, while students at St. Joseph (below) show some art they received in exchange from students in Cuba. (Contributed photo)

BARABOO -- This year, the fourth and fifth grade students at St. Joseph School in Baraboo became that voice talked about by Pope John Paul II and so much more — through their participation in Children Are The Hope (CATH), a project that aims to connect Wisconsin children to Cuban children through environmental and cultural education.

Children Are The Hope is an organization based in Wisconsin, partnering with the Empresa Nacional para la Proteccion de la Flora y Fauna and University of Havana in Cuba, along with nearly 20 primary and elementary schools from the north-central region of Cuba and the southern half of Wisconsin.

Bringing students together

CATH is dedicated to bringing Cuban and American students together through an academic year-long environmental education experience focused on wetlands and Sandhill Cranes.Classroom experiences, outdoor learning opportunities, and an international nature and crane-based art exchange create the bridge.

Students in both countries create visual art “messages” illustrating their connections to cranes and nature and their knowledge and commitment to care for both. By exchanging artwork between the countries, students see firsthand how their individual and collective decisions and actions impact the global community.

Focusing on Sandhill Cranes

“The students in both countries take part in environmental education programming throughout the academic year, learning about each other’s culture and the natural resources that we all share.

For the purposes of CATH, the common denominator is the Sandhill Crane. Wisconsin’s Greater Sandhill Cranes are thriving; the Cuban Sandhill Cranes are endangered. We have important stories to share through our art messages,” said Korie Klink, director of the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point CATH program.

In the 1930s, Aldo Leopold lamented that Wisconsin was losing its Greater Sandhill Cranes. Today, after decades of dedicated conservation effort, Wisconsin’s cranes are thriving.

In Cuba, the Cuban Sandhill Cranes remain critically endangered, with only 650 birds. Weaving these stories into one, Children Are The Hope aims to bring cultures and conservation together.

“By caring for our cranes, we care for our world. By caring for our world, we care for each other. By caring for each other, we find hope,” said Klink.

“This project could focus on any number of shared resources, but the cranes have such a powerful presence in Wisconsin and the Grand Wetland of the North in Cuba. Understanding how these activities affect connections between nature and children could impact how art, science, and cultural studies blend together in the school setting, and also how our young people approach and think about nature.”

Remarkable journey

“Infusing the CATH project into the faith lives of St. Joe’s students has been a remarkable journey,” said Klink. “Our shared faith, environment, and belief in the gifts of sharing ourselves in extraordinary ways brought incredible meaning to this project work and the resulting relationships between all of the students.

“All schools in Wisconsin are welcome to participate in the CATH project; St. Joe’s has exemplified the goals that I can only hope each and every student and teacher who take part in this important work realize.”

In 2012, St. Joseph School was partnered with Escuela Rural Julio Antonio Mella, a rural school in the tiny village of La Rosa in Ciego de Avila province in north-central Cuba. La Rosa’s school is a two-room facility, educating about 25 students in grades kindergarten through five. Students in both schools were introduced to each other through photographs and videos and, ultimately, their artistic “messages.”

Klink travelled to Cuba in February to deliver the St. Joseph art, and returned to Baraboo in March to complete the exchange.

Jamie, a participating student from St. Joe’s, was eager to share the very personal impacts from the CATH project and the opportunity to share the artistic messages of conservation and cooperation with students in Cuba. “My message is saying that we should put our hearts together and work together . . . Anyone can make a change! Remember children are the hope!”

Special connections

It is not unusual for participating students to reveal very personal stories of knowledge and special connections between the two groups of students and the natural communities around them.

Ashley, another St. Joe’s student, shares a connection between her artistic message and life. “Every day you wake up, look outside and say, ‘Thank you, God, for giving me life.’”

“This work goes beyond other work in several important ways,” says Dan Sivek, one of CATH’s directors. “One is that it involves interactions between children in two very different nations with different languages and cultures. Another is that it includes art as a medium of communication.”

While Cuba and Wisconsin are different in many respects — such as language and culture — CATH helps students recognize the many similarities and exciting ways we can all become partners in making the world a better place.

Sharing landscapes

Wisconsin’s landscapes share many characteristics with the Grand Wetland of the North region, the target for project work in north-central Cuba. Both have extensive water systems on which cranes and other wildlife depend.

Likewise, ecosystems in both regions face a number of conservation challenges. According to Klink, potential solutions depend upon the involvement, knowledge, and partnership of local citizens, including young people.

Klink reflects, “I believe in the value of helping children discover their potential not only in their family and local environments, but in the global community. Using nature as a tool to do so is an important opportunity, and I can only hope that some part of what these kids experience through Children Are The Hope remains with them throughout their life.

“There are significant and important life lessons in our work, and it has been infinitely fulfilling to share this experience with the students in Wisconsin and Cuba, especially in a faith-based setting where those connections take on unique and important meanings for life lessons.”

To learn more about the Children Are The Hope project, or to become involved, contact Korie at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or visit


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