Donna Vosloh and Lynn Chuback’s Grade 2 and 3 students rallied to help koalas and other critters affected by Australia’s wildfires, raising more than $1,000 for the cause. (Tracy Holmes photo)

Australia wildfires inspire White Rock students to help ease koalas’ plight

Grade 2, 3 kids raise $1,000 for wildlife rescue efforts

Students at White Rock Elementary didn’t let 12,000-plus kilometres of ocean stand in the way of helping fire-ravaged Australia’s critters – and especially its koalas.

“The wildfires caused them to have an 80 per cent loss of habitat,” Alicia De Grace, 8, said Thursday, of why she and her classmates were spurred to help.

The marsupials are now “almost the most endangered animals in the world,” added Suraj Subbiah.

“Australia is going to be soon the most uninhabitized place in the world.”

READ MORE: Hundreds of koalas feared dead in Australian wildfires

The impact of the wildfires on Australia’s east coast has been a repeated subject during morning meetings in teacher Donna Vosloh’s Grade 3 class – and just happened to time with the biodiversity unit of their science studies – but really hit home for the students after they learned about one woman’s efforts to save a single koala, Vosloh said.

The woman, Toni Doherty, was featured on television news after she literally used the shirt off her back to pull a severely burned koala out of harm’s way. That November act “really sparked conversation,” Vosloh said.

It didn’t take long for those discussions to turn to action.

In the space of just two weeks, the students came up with a ‘Kids for Koalas’ fundraiser plan; shared the plan – of collecting donations and holding a bake sale – with the entire school via announcements, posters and a display case of information; and then put it into action.

Lynn Chuback was quick to get her Grade 2/3 students on board, having just returned from a one-year teacher exchange in Australia.

Chuback said that she could see and smell the smoke of the wildfires from her school just outside of Adelaide, and that some of the staff she worked with lost their homes. Kangaroo Island, she added, is “decimated.”

“It’s really sad,” she said.

Organizations like Australia’s WIRES (Wildlife Information, Rescue and Education Service Inc.) in New South Wales are focused on the rescue and rehabilitation of the injured and orphaned wildlife, and the White Rock students’ fundraising will add $1,006.80 to those efforts.

Asked if they thought the money would make a difference, Brielle Fure, Blake King, Kayla Wilke, Ethan Deol, Isabelle Armstrong, Subbiah and De Grace answered in unison: “Yeah!”

“It’s $1,000,” one of the students gushed, clearly in awe of the total.

The money, the students said, will help buy bandages, medicine and more.

It’s estimated the fires have killed at least one billion animals. They broke out during a record-breaking heatwave and have been burning since September.

Subbiah noted the catastrophe went largely unnoticed by the rest of the world until last month.

“People ignored this for so long in Australia,” he said. “Once the fires got really big, people started helping. Australia was burning for so long.”

READ MORE: VIDEO: Kelowna animal rescue team headed to fire-ravaged Australia to help wildlife

According to reports, the state of New South Wales, with more than five million hectares and 2,000 homes destroyed, has been the hardest hit.

Last week, New South Wales Rural Fire Service confirmed three deaths after a water-bombing tanker crashed during firefighting efforts in the Snowy Mountains.

A tweet early Thursday (Jan. 23) by the fire service advised that 73 bush and grass fires continued to burn in that state as of midnight, with 30 “not yet contained.” Conditions were expected to ease on Friday.

Vosloh and Chuback said while the students’ fundraising campaign for WIRES has come to an end, the impact it had on their young charges is creating ripples, and ideas of how they can help closer to home are brewing.

“It was big and effective,” Vosloh said of the campaign.

“The realization that you can take (a thought) and make a difference with it.”

Australia fires

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The funds raised by White Rock Elementary students this month will go to koala care efforts in New South Wales, Australia. (File photo)

Lynn Chuback poses with her sons Jake and Eli at a koala sanctuary in Australia. Chuback recently returned from a year-long teacher exchange at a school just outside of Adelaide. (Contributed photo)

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