Mountain View Voice

News - January 22, 2010

Students and teachers respond to Haiti quake

Many at Los Altos High worry about sister school in Port-au-Prince

by Kelsey Mesher

Last Tuesday's catastrophic earthquake in Haiti has spurred more than just discussion on the Los Altos and Mountain View high school campuses: It has provoked swift action among both staff and students to collect relief money for the victims.

Some in the Los Altos High School community perhaps feel a special responsibility since, as social studies teacher Seth Donnelly explained last week, "The Amnesty International Club has a sister school in Port-au-Prince."

The sister school is the Society of Providence United for the Economic Development of Petion-Ville, or SOPUDEP, which was founded in the 1990s and had grown to more than 500 students.

Donnelly said some members of the Los Altos High School community have had ongoing relations with SOPUDEP. He also said they have heard that the school's director, Rea Dol, who paid a visit to the Los Altos campus this fall, is alive.

"The school is still standing, which is remarkable," he said Tuesday, but "some of the teachers and students were killed."

"It's been horrific," he said.

"We've worked very closely with the director of that school," Donnelly said, adding that he himself has visited Haiti seven times in the last five years, and once stayed in an orphanage there which apparently collapsed in last week's quake.

"Many of the kids get their only hot meal of the day at school," he said.

Another Los Altos High teacher, Ryan Icada, has also visited Haiti several times, and will be compiling video footage from both before and after the earthquake "for students to be visually educated," Donnelly said.

He added that another campus club, Students for Social Justice, is holding a live music concert Jan. 30 at Jungle Digital Imaging in Palo Alto to benefit relief efforts.

At Mountain View High School, students immediately began to collect money for the Red Cross upon hearing of the tragedy.

"There's been really great response on campus," said Mountain View High junior Amika Bist, president of the school's Red Cross Club. "People are really talking about it and have been affected. Even in my classes people have been discussing what they want to do."

According to Bist, the Red Cross Club had set out donation boxes in classrooms by Wednesday, and in just one day collected nearly a quarter of their $400 goal. The club will continue to monitor donation boxes, and is planning additional fundraising campaigns.

"People are really devastated," Bist said, adding that she's heard student discussion turn from building codes to whether the U.S. should shelter refugees to how the Haitian government will rebuild when its own buildings are in ruins.

"It's just a lot of really intellectual and really interesting conversations to hear, and also really surprising," she said.

At Egan Junior High, the student council held an emergency meeting the day following the earthquake, according to Principal Brenda Dyckman. She said the students voted unanimously to donate the earnings of their recent "Cookies for Kids" fundraiser to the International Red Cross. The student council matched the money, for a total donation of $1,000.

Even students at Bubb Elementary School are taking action, according to teacher Adria Flores, as fifth-graders organize a "penny drive" with donations going to the Red Cross.

Some of the relief efforts are being orchestrated by nonprofits operating within the schools. One Dollar for Life, a nonprofit started by Los Altos High social studies teacher Robert Freeman, launched a regional campaign Tuesday morning to collect one dollar from every high school student. The organization typically collects money to build schools in developing nations.

"We were trying to get all the high schools in Santa Clara County to come together in a singular fundraiser," Freeman said, "so every high school student in the county can say, 'I gave a dollar.'"

As of Tuesday afternoon the organization had verbal confirmation that at least six high schools from five districts around the county would be utilizing its "kits" to collect money. The kits, put together by Los Altos students, contain informational materials about Haiti and the earthquake as well as collection boxes to place in classrooms.

Freeman referenced the United Nations Relief Agency, which has called the recent quake "the greatest humanitarian crisis of modern times." He said the money collected by his group will be donated to the Haiti Emergency Relief Fund, a Berkeley-based organization that gives money to grassroots groups in the country.

"Every single dollar raised will go to relief projects on the ground in Haiti," he said. "We want the teenagers to feel efficacy as a group."

Other, larger local organizations which have pledged money to support relief efforts include Google ($1 million), Sutter Health ($1.25 million), and the Irene S. Scully Fund, a donor-advised fund of the Silicon Valley Community Foundation (see sidebar). For more information on SOPUDEP, visit www.sopudep.org.

E-mail Kelsey Mesher at kmesher@mv-voice.com HOW TO GIVE Below are Web sites of some local organizations accepting online donations for Haiti relief: Silicon Valley Community Foundation: www.siliconvalleycf.org Red Cross Silicon Valley: www.paarc.org Google: www.google.com/relief/haitiearthquake One Dollar For Life: www.odfl.org ?? ?? ?? ??

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