The history of the project goes back to its origins as a pen pal exchange club founded by Maureen Mark and Eric Sama in 1993 with students from their respective schools, Campus View Elementary in Victoria, B.C. and Ahmadiyya Primary School in Taiama, Sierra Leone.
The two founders had met in 1974 when Maureen was a volunteer with Canadian Crossroads International and Eric was a young student. The friendship continued through the years, and when Eric also became a teacher they both saw the educational possibilities of children exchanging letters.
The civil war interrupted the program in 1997 when schools were closed. Most teachers and families fled to refugee camps and some of the students were conscripted into the war as child soldiers. Four years later, in 2001, contact was renewed with the head teacher and the penpal letters were once again exchanged. But conditions had changed.
Eric Sama was then a resident of Victoria, BC, having arrived in Canada as a refugee in 2000. The students in Sierra Leone had three classrooms, not eight, and they had been out of school for four years. In 2003, in response to a request from the head teacher to help rebuild their school, a charity was formed to accommodate fundraising needs.
Maureen is chair of the board of the charity and Eric Sama as the overseas co-ordinator. They are supported by a volunteer board and many volunteers in Canada and a strong team of staff and advisors in Sierra Leone.