One little boy in Massachusetts is doing his part to help Australia cope with the devastation of the wildfires from thousands of miles away.
Two weeks ago, when 6-year-old Owen Colley learned about the impact of the catastrophic fires on the country and its wildlife, he told his mother, Caitlin Colley, that he wanted to help somehow, according to CNN.
Besides being familiar with many of the country’s animals, the Hingham kindergartner also had a special connection to Australia, having lived there for a few months when he was a toddler because his father Simon Colley grew up in Sydney, the outlet reported.
“He has a pull to Australia,” Caitlin Colley told CNN of her son. “He’s very proud of the fact that he lived there. I don’t think he remembers any of it but he’s proud of it.”
After putting their brains together, the mother-son duo came up with the idea of making clay koalas and giving them to friends and family. In exchange, Owen would ask for a donation of at least $50 to the Wildlife Rescue South Coast, a volunteer organization based in New South Wales that helps rescue, rehabilitate and release Australia’s wildlife.
Their creative idea has since taken off, with Owen raising $1,000 in donations via the mobile payment app Venmo before moving the growing fundraiser to GoFundMe, where he has now raised over $51,000.
“We are humbled beyond belief — your generosity toward fire-affected animals, and to a little boy doing his part to help them, is staggering,” the family wrote on the GoFundMe page. “Your donations, messages, and support have brought us to tears. And now, we have a lot of clay koalas to make! Thank you ❤️“
Colley told CNN that Owen’s idea to help started with a conversation about whether any animals had been hurt in the blazes. When she responded yes, Owen did something that she had never witnessed before: drew a picture of a kangaroo, koala and dingo in the rain.
“It was really the first time Owen had made a wish for something other than Lego or something other than himself,” Colley told the outlet, noting that the picture represented Owen’s hope that Australia would receive rain and wildlife relief soon.
“We asked him if he wanted to help and … together we came up with this,” she continued, referencing their koala fundraiser. “We could make some clay koalas and give them in response to donations from friends and family.”
Around 1.25 billion animals, including mammals, birds, and reptiles, are estimated to have died due to the crisis, according to the World Wildlife Fund. Thousands more are believed to be injured and homeless.
On Kangaroo Island alone, a popular tourist attraction with protected nature reserves off the coast of South Australia, tens of thousands of koalas are feared dead — more than 50 percent of the animal’s local population, according to The Straits Times.
With those heartbreaking statistics in mind, Colley and Owen sketched out a design of a koala, one of Australia’s most beloved animals, and began creating the little clay animals — a medium that Owen already enjoyed working with, CNN reported.
The koalas — designed with silver Sculpey clay for the body, white clay for the ears, and black clay for the eyes and nose — take Owen about 3-4 minutes to make before they get popped in the oven at 275 degrees for 17 minutes, according to the outlet.
The donations have ranged from $5 to $150 (only those who donate $50 or more will receive the koalas) and have come in from nearly every state in the United States.
So far, the kindergartner has made 55 koalas and expects to sculpt dozens more, although Colley told CNN they temporarily hit a roadblock when they ran out of clay and she managed to buy all the Sculpey clay in stores within a 20-mile radius.
“We’re seeing all of the donations coming in and we’re like, ‘Oh my gosh, we don’t have the clay,'” she told the outlet, noting that they’re waiting for more Sculpey clay to ship in so Owen can continue making his creations.
“We have every intention to fulfill every koala, it just won’t happen by tomorrow,” she continued. “It’s a 6-year-old using his little hands to make the spaces and the ears, so it does take time.”
Owen explained that his drive to make the clay creatures comes from his desire to have people learn more about the country and its wildlife.
“I want them to know more about Australia and I want them to know more about what animals are in Australia,” Owen told CNN.
As for his mother, she said she hopes the clay animal project, affectionately coined Owen’s Clay Koalas, inspires children around the country to also do their part.
“Anyone can make a difference and when we come together we can make an even bigger difference,” Colley told CNN. “I just, I love the idea that maybe other kids can take this to their communities and sell little clay koalas locally and raise money for this great cause.”
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Since September, at least 28 people have been killed, while a whopping 17.9 million acres have been wiped out, destroying thousands of homes and buildings in the process, according to CNN. A seven-day state of emergency was declared on Jan. 2, the third of its kind since November, NBC News reported.
The New South Wales Rural Fire Service confirmed on Wednesday that there were still 88 bushfires burning across the region — 39 of which were not yet contained.
However, there was some rainfall reported in several of the fire areas, which officials are hopeful will help put out some of the flames.