I was heartbroken when I found out that 62 students couldn’t attend the new Institution Mahanaim High School that Rev. Lemaire Alerte and his Jersey City, N.J., community worked to build in his hometown of Grande Saline, Haiti. It’s the only high school in this area. (Since the high school was completed last year, the need for education was so high that the school is now serving grades K-12.)
I was even more saddened when I found out that it costs only $85 a year to send a child to school. This important opportunity includes a uniform, shoes and books.
I was compelled and empowered to relay this news to my classes at the Academy of Art in San Francisco where I teach a myriad of multimedia classes.
Immediately, hands shot up in the air -- many students were adamant about helping. Some students said they were going to follow my lead this Christmas and instead of asking for gifts, they too would ask loved ones to fund a child’s tuition.
One class creatively brainstormed and with very little help from me, they created this video to inspire people to open their hearts:
This ripple of kindness started during the summer of 2010 by another student –- Julian Cohen, a junior at a high school in New Jersey when he participated in a five-week summer program at the Academy of Art University. At the end, Julian told me he was inspired by my nonprofit, GoInspireGo, and wanted to do a story that he had researched about Alerte, whose mission was to build a high school in his hometown of Grande Saline.
There are only two junior high schools in this town. "Every time I go back to visit, the people tell me, 'Reverend, we need a school,'" Rev. Alerte explained. There are no high schools, so after junior high, the students don't have a choice but to travel five hours away to attend school. Students whose parents can't send them to school are resigned to a junior high education.
With fundraisers and community help, Rev. Alerte started to build the school, but had to stop after running out of funds. He needed $18,000 to complete the school.
Mahanaim during construction
Mahanaim after construction
Julian was moved by Alerte’s efforts and created this GIG story about it:
A few months later, across the country, band students in Kenny William’s class at Willow Glen High School in San Jose, Calif., saw the story. The students wanted to help, but they didn't know how. Their teacher told them that GoInspireGo's mantra is "What can YOU do?" so he asked them that simple question. The students decided to orchestrate a winter benefit concert to help Rev. Alerte. Some volunteers helped me produce this follow up video:
The students raised $1,643.85. When I called Rev. Alerte to tell him the news, he was overjoyed. “Thank you, God Bless you!” he said. I was pleased to learn that his church helped raise the money to complete the school.
Recently, Rev. Alerte told me the bittersweet news - 177 kids enrolled in the Mahanaim High School, but only 96 were able to attend. 81 are still waiting to get in.
I told Rev. Alerte that the money raised from the Willow Glen High School band class will send 19 kids to school, leaving 62 students needing funding. I made it my personal goal this holiday to send as many of the 62 kids to school as possible.
I’ve never seen my students this excited and take ownership over any philanthropy project. Likewise, many Willow Glen parents told me they too have never seen their children so enthusiastic about anything (especially because this wasn't "me-centric.") Meanwhile, my students are using social media to inspire social change and are tweeting, Facebooking and blogging the video to everyone who will listen.
We need your help!
Rev. Alerte hopes to raise enough money to buy desks, furniture and food for the Mahanaim Students
Please go to Haiti Enrichment Foundation's website for more information and send a check made out to:
Haitian Evangelical Church
2030 Kennedy Blvd.
Jersey City, N.J. 07305
Please specify on the check memo "Mahanaim Student Tuition - gig"
It’s nice to see that my students using their power (and the multimedia skills I’ve taught them) to give back to other kids who have less resources and privileges. It’s joyful to witness the shift (from me to “we”) that I see in them. They’re learning compassion and experiencing the gift of giving.
Thank you for giving the gift of education!
Chief Inspirator, Go Inspire Go
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