During an outreach trip to Uganda, 8-year-old Paisley Elliott describes the electric joy she felt interacting with children her age.
“When we drove past (the children), it made my heart smile and cry with happiness,” says Paisley. “Whenever I passed them, they kept yelling my name and waving. They knew more about me than I thought. I’m helping these kids and they consider me as a friend because of how much I’ve done.”
It’s what Paisley, a Texas 3rd grader, has accomplished for others through volunteerism in the past four years that is remarkable for such a young child, and even greater, her plans for the future. As the founder of Paisley’s Pals, she is uniting with kids all around the world to increase access to STEM education and she says, build the next generation of changemakers.
“(Kids in need,) they’re just like you and me mostly. What if their story was my story? We’re mostly the exact same. (Through my volunteerism,) I am showing them that they can be free too, in their own way.”
Committing to humanitarian projects in countries including the United States, Mexico, Nicaragua, Switzerland, Greece and Uganda, raising more than $56,000 and changing the lives of children around the world, Paisley’s compassion and desire to build a more inclusive world guides her superstar service.
“We have a program for kids called the SHINE box. It’s a portable, mixed-aged STEAM toolbox that includes materials for lessons that focus on sustainable development goals. It also includes a bike share program to help kids get to school faster. We have solar radios and also have solar lights that take up energy from the sun, so at night kids can use the lights for studying to catch up on homework, or to cook. Our SHINE box is a popup classroom, (we’re teaching underserved kids that) you don’t have to not play, because playing is a big part of learning and using your imagination too.”
Creating her SHINE box to help children in refugee camps, often plagued by a lack of resources including no internet, Paisley is empowering the next generation of global citizens. Built to facilitate learning for 50 students, the SHINE box serves as a mobile learning platform, and is filled with reusable materials like LEGO blocks, solar lamps, reusable sanitary pads and more. Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Paisley says she realized learning wasn’t just limited to classrooms, further underscoring the importance of learning resources like hers for displaced children.
There are now 10 SHINE boxes in Rwamwanja, a refugee camp in southwestern Uganda home to nearly 70,000 refugees, where Paisley is also working in partnership with the Refugee Innovation Centre to launch the PeaceMaker Preschool. Olivier Nkunzurwanda, the CEO and founder of the Refugee Innovation Centre, says Paisley’s help is promoting change in the lives of hundreds of children, who face daily hurdles accessing education and other essential resources.
“Paisley’s Pals SHINE boxes are very useful to areas like Rwamwanja whereby there is a lack of enough structures,” says Olivier. “Paisley’s Pals also provided learning materials to children that can satisfy 100 children but more than 200 children use them by sharing. Since September 2021, we supported 550 young adolescent girls with the skills in Menstrual Hygiene Management and provided them with one year of reusable sanitary pads. (Lastly,) more than 400 books were distributed to primary and secondary schools even if there are still thousands of children in schools that need books.”
Volunteering to better lives around the world and get STEM education into the hands of displaced children, it’s Paisley’s creativity that continues to feed the fire of her service, says Erin Patterson, a neighbor who recently accompanied Paisley and her mother on a trip to Uganda.
“It’s like she never runs out of ideas,” says Erin. “(Paisley) is this ever flowing foundation of ideas…she’s changing the lives of children around the world and it’s easy to see the impact every single day. What’s hard to measure is the inspiration she brings to these kids so they can change their lives after Paisley has returned to Texas. That’s one of the special things about Paisley, she’s showing kids all around the world they can change their lives and change the lives of other children all around the world too.”
Inspired by the plight of refugee children forced to flee from their home countries, Paisley has partnered with organizations to maximize her impact, including the Refugee Innovation Centre, Totem Italia, NuMinds Enrichment, AfriPads, UNHCR, and Lifeline Energy Radio. Her work internationally and even closer to home, quite literally, her front yard, demonstrates her empathetic service and advocacy on behalf of others. Protesting the separation of children from their families at the southern border during the Trump administration, Paisley camped outside in front of her mother’s home for 34 weeks. Describing a circle of kindness as she offers hope for the future to other children, Paisley invites other volunteers, young and old, to join her in changing the world.
“If we help (someone), then maybe later on, if we have to go someplace because of a hurricane or something, then they’ll be able to help us because they’ll remember us for our good deeds. It doesn’t matter how old or how young you are. No one can stop you from changing the world and doing what’s right. We can be change makers and peacemakers. We will lead the way, no matter if you’re young or old, you can still make things right.”
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