By Erin Dostal
The Indianapolis Star

The war-torn West African country of Liberia, with its culture shaped by slavery, music and violence, was unlike anything Lydia Fischer and Lyndsay McBride had seen before.

During a three-week service trip to Kpain, Liberia, to help build a six-room schoolhouse, they observed rampant poverty, fresh bullet holes and cockroaches the size of mice. They saw a country in need.

But they also saw a country with a lot of spirit, and they returned to the United States eager to continue their aid work.

Fischer, 20, of Bluffton, and McBride, 20, of Bristol, both graphic design majors at the United Methodist-related University of Indianapolis, met overseas when they traveled to Liberia last summer with the Indiana Area United Methodist Church's Operation Classroom. Upon their return, the pair founded Inches International, an organization dedicated to educating children in Liberia and Sierra Leone.

Inches International raises money by selling metal bracelets Fischer and McBride designed. They charge $5 for each of the bracelets, which are available in nine colors. All proceeds go to Operation Classroom.

It takes about 20 bracelets to send one child to school for a year in Sierra Leone or Liberia, Fischer said. Since October, about 500 bracelets have been sold.

Fischer said that even though the rebuilding process in these countries is vast, little steps can make a difference - hence the name Inches International.

"Just because you can't change everything doesn't mean you can't do something small," Fischer said. "You can't negate the small stuff."

Charles Guthrie, an associate history professor at the University of Indianapolis, led their Liberia service trip.

"It's not easy to do good," he said, adding that the people on the trip, including Fischer and McBride, were exceptional.

"They were green when it comes to the developing world," he said. "They came back absolutely changed."

Hoping to expand their organization, the entrepreneurs are publicizing their project, distributing pamphlets and business cards and traveling to schools to get the word out.

"The first step was making all this new stuff," McBride said. "We worked to get our name out there."

Reprinted from The Indianapolis Star. Used by permission.