Students dig deep to help Salvadoran quake victims | AspenTimes.com
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Students dig deep to help Salvadoran quake victims

Allyn Harvey

Some Aspen High students pulled crumpled bills out of their pockets – fives, ones, and even a few twenties – and cast them into the plastic bucket sitting on a table in the cafeteria.

Others pulled out their checkbooks and began looking around for someone to give them the information they needed to make a donation.

“Who do I make the check out to?” asked one girl.

“Make it out to Aspen High School, but in the memo write, `San Salvador’ or `El Salvador Day’, so we know to add it in,” answered Kathy Klug, the school’s literacy coordinator.

The girl stepped in line, dropped a check for $20 in the bucket, pinned a small blue-and-white ribbon to her chest and grabbed a piece of cake to go with her lunch. She and her schoolmates raised more than $1,400 during the lunch break yesterday – officially dubbed “El Salvador Awareness Day.”

“Fourteen hundred dollars in 40 minutes – I’m so thrilled,” Klug said. “The kids really came out for this one.”

All of the money will be sent to a relief organization on the front line of the effort to help citizens of El Salvador. The small Central American country was struck by a powerful earthquake – 7.6 on the Richter Scale – on Jan. 13.

More than 700 people are known to be dead; scores are still missing. One neighborhood on the outskirts of the nation’s capital, San Salvador, was devastated when the earthquake triggered a landslide that took the lives of more than 350 people.

El Salvador Awareness Day was a joint venture by Aspen High School’s Outreach Service Club, its 14 Salvadoran students, and a handful of its Mexican students. The effort actually began last week, when sophomore Thomas Machado, a Salvadoran who is also a member of the Outreach Club, asked his fellow club members what they could do to help the relief efforts.

Machado has two brothers, a grandmother, two aunts and several cousins living in El Salvador. Other Salvadoran students interviewed yesterday also have relatives living there. But none of them were victimized by the earthquake.

“They all live close to the earthquake, but it didn’t affect them,” Machado said of his relatives. “There were a lot of other people who were hurt. They are my people, my brothers. At this time we need to be united with them.”

The students quickly decided they wanted their efforts to focus on providing medical care, drugs, food and water.

“Most people want to give food and clothing, but shipping that is not the most efficient way to reach people,” said Klug, who advises the Outreach Service Club.

Klug and the students are considering three organizations – the Red Cross, Doctors Without Boarders and World Vision – as possible recipients of the money, because they all keep administrative and other overhead costs at a minimum.

They also decided an education and awareness effort was needed before the big day. Liz Waters’ art class painted some 50 posters to put up on the walls around the high school, and all 14 Salvadorans agreed to make their message public.

At Monday’s assembly, they all walked up on stage and stood behind Machado while he urged his schoolmates to help out the people of his homeland.

His pleas were very personal: They were about his family, his fears, his difficulty reaching loved ones after learning of the earthquake, and the plight of his people. “It seemed like everyone was trying to listen, trying to understand,” Machado said.

“Thomas gave an excellent speech on Monday,” said senior Alison Eastley as she pulled out a $10 donation. “It was personal and it gave us an idea about the devastation. I had no connection to it before Monday – it was just numbers. Now, it’s much more personal.”

“I’ve never seen a student body stand up and clap as long as they did for Thomas on Monday after he spoke,” said one teacher.

On Tuesday, all 14 Salvadoran students – including sophomores Miguel Aguirre and Elita Membreno, freshman Nancy Aguirre and junior Jaime Romero – split up in pairs and visited every high school class. They presented information about El Salvador’s geography and history, its people and the effects of the earthquake.

“I was a little nervous, but everyone was kind to us,” Membreno said.

“Some of the students asked questions about what happened in my country,” said Romero, who has several family members who escaped the worst of the earthquake, even though they live in a village close to the epicenter.

“It was cool,” said Nancy Aguirre. “I went to the elementary school and the kids asked questions about El Salvador.”

Yesterday, the Salvadorans and a few of the school’s Mexican students who volunteered to help were allowed to leave their last morning class about 20 minutes early so they could set up for the fund-raiser.

A table was erected against the back wall of the circular room where students assemble for lunch. Posters were put up on the wall. A cake, frosted with the words “Thank you for all of your hard work and generosity,” was set next to the tray full of white-and-blue ribbons that would be pinned on the chests of all the donors. A boom box playing Salvadoran music was set on a chair behind the table.

A few minutes later, students began filing into the room. Many went straight to the table and pulled out their money. A few who forgot to bring cash asked teachers they knew if they could borrow a dollar or two for the cause.

“I wasn’t aware of the earthquake until they told me about it,” admitted sophomore Katie Barare. She said she was contributing for “the thought of helping people, and making their lives better.”


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