A student club at Los Altos High School is gearing up for trip to one of the poorest and most dangerous countries in the world -- and they need the community's help to make it happen.
The school's Haiti Solidarity Club is raising funds to travel to the embattled island nation, to continue work on LAHS' sister school. The students leave in early February, and they are looking for donations from local individuals and companies to help finance the trip, as well as the other humanitarian and charity work the club does year-round.
Seth Donnelly, adviser to the school's Haiti Solidarity Club, said he is excited at the chance to get back to a country he's grown to love over the past decade, and lead his students on an excursion they are likely to remember for the rest of their lives.
Since the summer of 2010, when Donnelly began taking groups of LAHS students to Haiti, the club has made eight trips -- roughly two each year. On Feb. 16, the club will embark on its ninth trip to Haiti.
While in the country, Donnelly and the high schoolers have worked "shoulder to shoulder" with local Haitians building the SOPUDEP school. The Society of Providence United for the Economic Development of Pétion-Ville is a Haitian grassroots organization working to provide free education, support women's rights and empower the country's poorest citizens.
The kids take in Haitian culture, gain a more worldly perspective and learn about ways U.S. foreign policy can help the developing world. During their stay the students will stay with Haitian families -- not in a hotel.
"I think that's what makes this experience distinct from other charity work," Donnelly said.
It not only introduces the students to the kinds of conditions this world's less fortunate live in on a daily basis, it also shows them that people can live a meaningful life without all the creature comforts to which even the least-fortunate LAHS student is accustomed, according to Donnelly.
"No matter what somebody's background, I think the level of poverty in Haiti really is quite shocking," he said. "That, of course, deepens a sense in our students to not take for granted all the resources we have here, like drinking fountains with water that doesn't make us sick, tutors and computers."
The U.S. Embassy in Port Au Prince, Haiti, warns Americans to be very cautious when visiting the country, and according to the head of the high school district, the group is very careful when in the country.
"We take significant precautions in taking students there," said Barry Groves, superintendent of the Mountain View-Los Altos Union High School District.
Groves traveled with the club last February and said that the risks of traveling to Haiti are worth the rewards that both the students and SOPUDEP school get in return.
"It was the most impactful educational experience I've had in my 35-plus years in education," Groves said. "To see the outpouring of support and empathy of the students was incredibly impressive."
Groves said that the Haitians he's met really appreciate the help and support, and that they want to ultimately transition into building their country themselves.
In order for the Haiti Solidarity Club to continue supporting the society, it needs support from the local LAHS community, Donnelly said.
On Jan. 26, from 2 p.m. to 2:40 p.m., the group plans to hold a fundraiser at First & Main Sports Lounge in Los Altos. The event will feature a silent auction where members of the community can bid on different projects the club wants to tackle -- like the installation of a 70,000-gallon clean water cistern at the school, or the construction of a new classroom.
Those interested in tickets or information on the fundraiser can email firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also contribute to the cause by visiting 32auctions.com/sopudep.
More information about SOPUDEP can be found at the organization's website, sopudep.org.