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Harding first-graders make prayer flags for Mount Everest base camp

July 25, 2008

From The Tennessean – Seven-year-old Megan Murphy described her creation quite simply.

“Well, it had a giraffe and an ocean and some grass. It was pretty. It was a blue flag. It had some peace signs and hearts,” she said. “And that’s about it.”

But the flag she designed and made in her first-grade Harding Academy class last spring must be pretty special, as it, along with her classmates’ creations, is hanging at 17,040 feet in a base camp of Mount Everest.

Megan’s grandmother, Audrey Gonzalez, hung the international prayer flags during her two-month pilgrimage to Nepal and Tibet. Gonzalez was 68 years old and had just undergone a breast cancer operation at the time.

Climbers have to stay at the base camp for a few months to adjust to the altitude before attempting to reach the summit of Everest, Gonzalez said.

The grandmother offered for Kim Rodriguez’s first-grade class to make some of those 60 flags she and her group hung.

“I jumped on it,” Rodriguez said. “This kind of opportunity doesn’t come by every day.”

Rodriguez said she wanted to show her students they were part of a bigger world.

“They always think of themselves as Nashville, Tennessee,” she said. “It was really neat to have it culminate to that, to see themselves globally and not just as a member of their school and member of their family.”

Gonzalez said flags — mostly Buddhist ones — hang all over the Everest region.

But, she said, the prayer flags are special because children made them.

“That was the thing that pushed me,” Gonzalez said. “I can’t let anybody down. I can’t let the kids down.”

Rodriguez spent a week teaching her students about Mount Everest, Nepal, different cultures and prayer flags.

The first-graders also discussed what messages they wanted to spread across the world.

“I thought they would just write their names on the flag. They took it much further than that,” Rodriguez said.

“They came up with some really cool messages — love one another, peace, kindness.”

The class painted their flags to portray the messages they chose.

For Megan, she went with the green trend.

“I wanted it to mean (for people) to try to help the Earth, like recycle or turn off the lights,” she said.

When the class finished their flags, Gonzalez got them blessed at Calvary Episcopal Church in Memphis and by Lama Gesehi of the Pangboche Monastery in Nepal before hanging them.

“The wind takes each message up to God,” Rodriguez said.

Megan and her classmates read Gonzalez’s blog on the pilgrimage every day at the start of class.

They were so interested in and creative with the project, Gonzalez said, she plans to keep the class involved in her future adventures.

Up next could be a trip to India at the end of October.

The flags will hang until they wither away from Everest’s blistering winds.

And it’s back to pen pals for Rodriguez and her new first-grader friends, until another adventurous grandmother comes to class.

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