Triad student’s message in a bottle spreads hope 4,000 miles away after 15 months at sea

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GREENSBORO, N.C. — Sometimes spreading an uplifting message across the world can be achieved with a piece of paper, a few words and an empty bottle. It’s something a Triad elementary school student recently learned firsthand; 15 months and 4,000 miles later.

“This whole thing has been exciting, but I think that someone else should be able to experience it,” Greensboro Day School rising fifth grader Vivian Byerly said.

Two springs ago, Susan Ferguson’s third grade class had finished studying the state of North Carolina region by region.

“When we finished learning about the coastal plains region of North Carolina the class voted to celebrate by having pirate day,” Ferguson said.

The class dressed and talked like pirates, but the most impactful activity that day proved to be placing messages in bottles.

“With the thought being whoever may find their bottle would have a little bright spot, or a little inspiration in their day,” Ferguson said.

Vivian chose a quote, which read, “Be strong because things will get better. It may be storming now but it never rains forever,” adding that at the time, it simply stuck out to her.

Some of the students sealed their bottles with glue, while others sealed them with wax. Vivian chose wax.

“If you get this message please write back,” she included, along with Ferguson’s email address.

Around the same time, the annual Reelin’ For Research fishing tournament was set to start off the coast of Morehead City. Reelin’ For Research is a Greensboro-based charity that raises money for childhood cancer research and several Greensboro Day School families were participating in the event. One of them agreed to transport the bottles Ferguson’s students had fashioned.

Sixty miles off the coast, the bottles were dropped into the Gulf Stream.

Fifteen months later, Vivian admitted she had mostly forgotten about the bottle. But something she’ll always remember was about to happen.

“At first I thought it was spam and then when I read the content I was really surprised and excited,” Ferguson said.

About 4,000 miles away, in North Africa, a fisherman on the coast of Morocco found Vivian’s bottle. The man wasn’t proficient in English, so he recruited his nephew to help decipher her quote and request. The pair emailed Ferguson.

“Hello Vivian. How are you? I wish you are fine. I’m writing to tell you that my uncle, whose job is a fisherman, and found today your letter inside the bottle,” the nephew wrote.

Ferguson promptly emailed back, asking them to send pictures as well. The nephew included pictures of the bottle, the knife used to open it, his uncle holding the letter and he and his uncle together in his next correspondence. They also included a picture of a goat their family was planning to sacrifice for Eid al-Adha, adding to the educational value of the project for Vivian.

“It’s really cool that one bottle traveled 4,000 miles in a little over a year,” she said.

But, perhaps most profound, was the increased significance of the words Vivian had inscribed in the spring of 2019; words her parents were now seeing for the first time in mid-2020.

“It was a little bit like looking back in time, at a time before, you know, 2020,” said Bryan Byerly, Vivian’s father.

“It’s kind of strange that this quote got delivered now,” Vivian said. “At all times where the world’s at now.”

Vivian continued to email with the family in Morocco, saying, “When I first wrote the message I was not aware how tough this year would be.”

For the Byerlys, the experience is proof that hope is something all humans can share, regardless of where we call home.

“These crises we’re going through right now are temporary, and things will get better soon,” Bryan said. “There will be vaccines in the near future, and things will just calm down, and we won’t be so divided and I’m really grateful for that.”

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