Schools Join Hurricane-Relief Effort To Help Central Americans

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Schools across the United States are collecting money, food, clothing, and other supplies to send to victims of Hurricane Mitch in Central America.

Students at Andrew P. Hill High School in San Jose, Calif., began a coin and clothing drive last week and collected more than $400 on the first day.

Students at the largely Hispanic school came up with the idea after hearing about the devastation the hurricane has caused in Honduras, Nicaragua, Guatemala, and El Salvador, according to Viet Trinh, the activities director at the 2,200-student school.

It is estimated that more than 10,000 people in those countries have died as a result of last month's storm. Millions are homeless, and bridges and roads have been destroyed, making relief efforts more difficult.

Schools in Honduras will remain closed for the rest of their school year, which ends in November, after suffering extensive damage and losing nearly all students' records in the storm.

"This is a great thing that the students are doing," Mr. Trinh said. "I'm surprised by the generosity of the students. ... Some are giving $5 or $10."

Educators at a high school in Silver Spring, Md., hope their students learn how precarious life can be as they collect clothing, food, and money for the hurricane survivors.

Several student groups at Montgomery Blair High School in the Washington suburb started seeking donations last week.

Many of the school's 2,800 students have relatives or know of someone who has relatives in Central America.

"We knew that we had to do something," said Cherie McGinn, the chairwoman of the school's social studies department. "We try to point out in our world history class that these governments are so poor that they will not be able to recover without international help."

The school is working with a local church that will be flying supplies, such as canned foods, rice, beans, bottled water, and personal-care items, to the four countries. The money that is collected will be given to the Red Cross, which is helping coordinate the hurricane-relief efforts.

Teaching 'Civic Virtue'

When students come up with ideas to help people who are victims of natural disasters, school administrators have several different factors to consider before allowing them to participate, Gary Marx, a spokesman for the American Association of School Administrators in Arlington, Va., said last week.

Administrators must check the authenticity of the organizations that will distribute the supplies to ensure that the aid will reach the disaster victims, determine what type of help is most needed, create an effective plan of action, and understand what students can learn from engaging in such projects.

"We want our students to learn that they do have a responsibility to their fellow man," Mr. Marx said. As educators, he said, "we need to teach [students] civic virtue."

Relief Programs

CARE International, which runs relief and development programs in 60 countries worldwide, suggests to schools that raising money is the most helpful thing that students can do.

"Money is the easiest thing to handle," said Virginia Ubik, the director of Latin American programs at CARE USA. "We decided that we would be pulled in too many directions if we took everything."

Ms. Ubik said money can be easily transferred to buy such items as medical supplies, tools, and water pumps. If people want to donate items other than money, CARE will direct them to organizations that accept those supplies.

"We greatly appreciate the help that people want to give," Ms. Ubik said. "But they often don't know about the logistics of what is needed."

Several large and small organizations collect food and clothing for Hurricane Mitch victims. World Vision, an international Christian relief and development agency, is working with several schools in Washington state to collect personal-care kits.

The nonprofit organization, based in Federal Way, Wash., is also requesting a $10 donation with each care kit to go toward relief operations.

The faculty and students at Twin Lakes Elementary School in Federal Way were eager to help World Vision, according to Principal Barbara Bergman. Students have been asked to bring in blankets, soap, toothbrushes, toothpaste, washcloths, shampoo, and plastic combs and will begin collecting supplies this week.

Several teachers at the 575-student school plan to use newspaper and magazine articles to aid in discussing the importance of helping the disaster victims.

"This is a tremendous opportunity for us to teach kids how to be a part of their world community," Ms. Bergman said. "I'm real proud of the way our school is responding to this tragedy."

Vol. 18, Issue 12, Page 5

Published in Print: November 18, 1998, as Schools Join Hurricane-Relief Effort To Help Central Americans
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