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Snoqualmie sisters collect pennies to help build schools in Middle East

Sisters Sierra and Emma Grace of Snoqualmie are collecting change as part of the Pennies for Peace effort, raising funds to build schools in remote regions of Afghanistan.  - Allison Espiritu / Snoqualmie Valley Record
Sisters Sierra and Emma Grace of Snoqualmie are collecting change as part of the Pennies for Peace effort, raising funds to build schools in remote regions of Afghanistan.
— image credit: Allison Espiritu / Snoqualmie Valley Record

Sierra Johnson's 10th birthday was like any other party, except for one thing.

Instead of presents, Sierra asked her guests to bring donations for Pennies for Peace, a fundraiser to help build schools in Afghanistan.

Sierra, who is homeschooled, and her 7-year-old sister, Emma Grace, were inspired to join the cause after reading the nonfiction book "Three Cups of Tea," by Greg Mortenson.

The book tells the story of Mortenson's experiences building a school for Afghan villagers. Teaming up with Central Asia Institute, a non-profit organization promoting education and literacy in remote places, Mortenson founded the Pennies for Peace campaign.

Reading the book, Sierra was amazed by the devotion to education of the Afghan children, who were so poor they had to share a teacher with a a neighboring village.

"Here, we're so fortunate to be able to go to school and learn," she said. "Many of us don't realize that. We complain about school and take it for granted."

The Johnson sisters made a deeper connection when they found that the small village portrayed in the book was the same place where their uncle, Paul, was deployed to last spring, with the U.S. Army's 10th Mountain Division.

"This is his third deployment to the Middle East," Sierra said. "We were excited to learn that they were building schools in the exact area that Uncle Paul is serving."

Placing jars in 10 businesses on Snoqualmie Ridge, the girls hope to pass out more in downtown Snoqualmie.

Their goal is to raise $5,000, enough to help support an already existing school for one year.

"We've made $800 so far," Sierra said. "We're doing this to thank our Uncle Paul until next spring."

The Johnson girls will add to their fund by holding bake sales, lemonade stands and teaming up with a few neighbors to donate all proceeds they make at the Ridge Garage Sale to Pennies For Peace.

Children in more than 400 mountain villages in remote northern Pakistan and Afghanistan are on the waiting list, hoping to learn in a new school, Sierra said.

"We hope to help build a bridge of peace, one penny at a time, offering alternatives to the cycle of terrorism and war," she wrote in a letter to businesses.

For more information on Pennies for Peace, visit www.penniesforpeace.org/about-the-program/.

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