AS CHILDREN around the county returned to school this month, the sight of pens and pencils left lying around has become all too common in the homes of Gloucestershire.

In Ethopia, however, if a pen or pencil goes missing it cannot be as easily replaced.

Arabella Stewart, from Wotton, is hoping that she can redress the balance with ‘project pencil case’.

Arabella spent her childhood in Ethiopia, where her parents were broadcast journalists, before the family returned to the UK in the mid-1970s.

"I now divide my time between the UK and Ethopia, where I teach English in Addis Ababa," said Arabella.

"The inspiration for Project Pencil Case came to me last year when my teenage son Matthew presented me with numerous pens and pencils he had never used while clearing his room.

"I then purchased inexpensive plastic pencil cases, filled them up and during the course of three trips in 2008/09, I distributed them at random on the streets of Addis.

"To see a child’s face light up with a smile is reward enough but for these kids to have their own pencil case, which is both useful and positive, is the real satisfaction."

Primary schools around the area have been happy to help Arabella with the cause, and Blue Coat Primary School in Wotton was the first school in the area to start collecting pencil cases and stationery last spring.

"It seems to be a cause that the children can really associate with," said Arabella.

"And now word has spread and Hillesley School will be linking with Project Pencil Case during their Harvest Festival on October 1.

"I would like to suggest and encourage other local schools or local groups to do the same thing.

"A simple plastic box or bin can be kept in the school hall where people can deposit items. Items can then be collected from your school and taken back to Addis Ababa after Christmas."

Arabella has also introduced a PayPal button to her website, so that those who would like to help can donate cash for items to be bought in Addis, avoiding transportation costs.

"On the basic level, I would like to be able to provide the poorest of these students with the basic tools to supplement their education.

"It costs only £2.50 to provide one child with a simple pencil case which will include a sharpener, eraser and a selection of coloured pens and pencils but these simple supplies which UK students take for granted would not be available to most students."

But Project Pencil Case is not the only big plan that Arabella has to bring children together across the continents.

"I would like to be able to establish a network which would include implementing a school 'twinning' system with schools in the UK and similar sized schools in Addis Ababa. There is a great need also for volunteer English teachers and librarians," added Arabella.

Details of Arabella’s work and how you could help Project Pencil Case can be found on the website