By J. PATRICK PEPPER
DEARBORN — After learning about the plight of the endangered black rhinoceros, McCollough-Unis fifth-graders Hussein Elashkar, Haidar Zaidan and Hassan Hammoud just had to help.
The children found the animal’s granite-like stature and majestic horn simply too beautiful a creature for to sit idly by. So with the help of some teachers, a couple of artistic ninth-graders and a generous student body, the trio launched a fundraiser to “adopt” one of the hulking beasts.
“We really just wanted to do something, because they are such cool animals and we all really like wildlife,” Zaidan said.
At the center of their fundraising efforts is a 4-foot tall papier-mache rhino named Ryan. After hearing about the children’s initiative, art teacher Annette Alexander-Frank came up with the idea for the rhino.
“I just thought it would be perfect to symbolize what they were doing, and the kids were thrilled with the idea,” Alexander-Frank said.
With the help of Fordson ninth-graders Mohammed Ali Sareini and Ahmed Dabaja, two former students, Alexander-Frank worked with the boys after school to assemble the model. It has become a hit at their lunchtime cash drives.
“People like the rhino so much, and it was a lot of fun to build it,” Elashkar said.
The boys said most of their donations come in the form of spare change left over from lunch money, but they have received the occasional $5 bill. One philanthropic schoolmate even donated $20.
With the boys nearing their $500 goal, they are setting sights on their next endangered beneficiary: the clouded leopard.
“We’ve had a lot of fun with this, and the clouded leopard is a beautiful animal, so I think that’s what we’ll do next,” Hammoud said.
Elashkar and Zaidan hope to parlay their wildlife fascination into careers as zoologists. Both boys said one of their chief purposes as zoologists would be to breed ligers, a cross-breed between lions and tigers. Hammoud, meanwhile, hopes to become an attorney.