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Inspired to help impoverished children abroad, a young Seattle author gives back

Photo: Joshua Huston


For Elisa Johnson, living and traveling across Asia for most of her life until she was 7 gave her a chance to see firsthand the poverty and challenges faced by families in developing countries — and it made her want to help. 

“I visited a village in Cambodia where women and children have to walk two hours each way just to get water,” says Elisa, now 11 and living in Seattle. “So for my birthday I asked for donations instead of gifts. My friends and family gave me $240 and I was able to buy a well for a family.”

Elisa also visited a school outside Mandalay, Myanmar, and was troubled by the sight of students without school supplies or a library. So last year she founded The Mandalay Project to raise money for the 450-student school. Elisa already has raised and donated $4,000 from individual donors, from her own Christmas money and from the money she earned on a book tour promoting her first novel, called The Rose

She’s giving the remaining royalties from The Rose — a book published in February about a young servant girl searching for clues about her heritage — to support Ebola research. So far she’s donated nearly $200 to Doctors Without Borders, an international nonprofit fighting the disease. 

Over the summer, Elisa and her parents traveled back to Myanmar to visit the school, which used her donations to purchase pencils, book bags and textbooks, and establish a mobile library that travels to neighboring schools. 

The headmaster and students of the school gathered to give her a blessing and thank her, and she was able to see for herself the impact of her work. 

“It felt pretty good,” Elisa says. 

To support The Mandalay Project, visit lanternprojects.org, go to “General Donation” and enter an amount and credit card information. Under “Review Donation” click “Add Special Instructions For The Recipient,” then for “Type” select Elisa’s Mandalay Project #243. Her book is available through Barnes and Noble and Amazon

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