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Solana Santa Fe Student uses bracelets to help South African village

Solana Santa Fe fifth grader Leah Banuelos, 10, is putting her passion for fashion toward a very worthy cause. Through her nonprofit Kids Helping Kids, Leah is selling her custom-made essential oil beaded bracelets to raise money for mini solar power systems for a small rural Zulu village in South Africa.

In the village of Mpunulo, people live in very small huts and rely on candlelight and fire to cook food and light the night. Recently, a candle fell inside one of the huts, resulting in a fire that destroyed the hut and left three children badly burned.

“I want the village to have solar panels to use so that kids don’t get burned again,” Leah said.

Leah Banuelos shows off her creations on Instagram @KidsHelpingKidz
Leah Banuelos shows off her creations on Instagram @KidsHelpingKidz

Three Solana Santa Fe families will be traveling to South Africa this December. The Snell, Beane and Banuelos families plan to visit the village on Christmas Eve to distribute the solar systems and other gifts, as well as participate in a traditional Zulu feast.

Leah has created an Etsy shop for the Kids Helping Kids bracelets and is also getting the word out through an Instagram account, @KidsHelpingKidz. Dream Girls, a store in Ocean Beach, is also selling Leah’s bracelets.

The idea for Kids Helping Kids was born in Roderick Gayta’s fifth grade class, where each child is given a year to complete a “Passion Project.” Students’ projects can be anything they like as long as it brings a positive change to the world.

Leah has a big interest in fashion and always wanted to do a one-for-one line like TOMS, where every item purchased goes to help someone in need.

“My mom showed me pictures of the village and I decided to do something to help them because they have no electricity and no running water,” Leah said.

The small solar systems cost $65 a piece and provide two lights and an electrical plug. The systems don’t need an electrician to install, they can be placed on top of the roof of the small hut.

Leah is hoping to raise about $1,000 and is about halfway to her goal. In addition to the bracelets, Leah is also selling her handmade, essential oil-scented play doh.

“These are really sweet stocking stuffers and smell sooo good,” Leah writes on her shop page.

Leah has spent a couple of months making bracelets and has recruited several young artisans from Solana Santa Fe: fifth grader Lily Snell, third grader Derek Snell, kindergartner Gwyn Snell, third grader Barcelona Beane and her second grade sister Angelina Banuelos. Preschoolers Cade Banuelos and William Snell also “help.”

“I just love crafts,” said Lily of her willingness to help out her friend.

“I like making the bracelets because it’s relaxing, calming and stress-relieving,” Leah said, noting that she looks at each bracelet as an art project.

The village of Mpunulo has a special connection to Leah’s mother Jolene. Jolene grew up in South Africa and a member of the Mpunulo tribe, Rosie, was her beloved nanny. Rosie and her children lived at Jolene’s home and became like members of her family. While Rosie has passed away, Jolene still keeps in touch with her children.

“Everyone in the community is talking about our visit because they all want to see Rosie’s ‘grandkids,’” Jolene said. What started out as a small gathering will now be a village-wide party — Jolene is helping coordinate the event from Rancho Santa Fe.

At the party, Leah is looking forward to learning traditional Zulu dances and trying out the new tastes in a traditional Zulu meal.

To purchase a bracelet, visit etsy.com/shop/KidsHelpingKids. Those interested in sponsoring a solar system can also contact Jolene Banuelos at jolenebanuelos@icloud.com.

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