After selling dozens of handmade arbutus berry necklaces in December, a group of 20 students from Oaklands Elementary in Victoria presented a cheque to the family of Leila Bui – the Saanich girl injured after being struck by a vehicle in 2017.
On March 1, the courtyard outside the school buzzed with excitement as the youngsters waited to meet Bui and present her family with more than $700 they’d raised through the necklace sale.
For several weeks at the end of 2020, the Grade 4/5 students worked with vice-principal Amei Mai, their outdoor education teacher, to make necklaces out of arbutus berries to sell and raise money for Bui. The youngster, who was 11 at the time, was struck by a vehicle while in a crosswalk in December 2017. She thrown several metres and sustained serious head injuries. As a result, she now requires constant care and uses a wheelchair.
Mai was moved by Bui’s story and wanted to find a way for her students to lend a hand. She settled on the berry necklaces and, after several weeks of work, the students had made nearly 100 pieces of jewelry.
The necklaces were sold for $5 each on the school’s website and while Mai was expecting the sale to raise $450, the donations continued to pour in after the necklaces were gone and pushed the total to $710.
Bui’s mom, Kairry Nguyen, explained that the funds will go towards purchasing a Hippocampe all-terrain wheelchair which will allow Leila to go on trails and beaches that she can’t access in her current chair. The Hippocampe will cost about $8,500 so the family is grateful for all the donations they’ve received.
“Anything that has to do with accessibility is very expensive,” Nguyen said, adding that they’ve been “totally overwhelmed” by the outpouring of support.
Not only did the students get a taste of philanthropy, but they also made a new friend. Mai noted that the kids had prepared questions to ask the family and that further conversation arose organically.
They wanted to know about her schooling, her room and her hobbies as well as her injuries, Mai explained, adding that their questions were quite personal but Bui’s family was very open about their story.
The afternoon became about “bridging the gap between what able-bodied people can do and what differently-abled people can do,” she said. “Kindness was the theme of the day” and the students truly embodied that.
Nguyen emphasized that the students’ curiosity was heartwarming because it was an opportunity to teach them that “it’s OK to be different” and that “Leila’s just another kid” who happens to face more obstacles than others.
Mai hopes the students will stay connected with Bui and that they’ll take what they learned during the fundraiser into adulthood.