According to UNICEF, more than one billion children live in poverty around the world, and more than 263 million children do not attend school.
I was a new student at SAS and during my first semester, I was introduced to TRi Time.—a program that allows children to deepen their learning on a topic of their personal interest. The process starts with asking one question, which is supposed to guide your research. I have always had the idea that everyone deserves the same opportunities in life, but because there is so much poverty and ignorance, many people simply do not get a chance to fulfill their potential.
With that in mind, I decided that I wanted to do something to help these people. For me, values are defined by actions not thoughts.
My starting question was: What is the best way to do a fundraiser?
It is a very basic question, but once you notice all of the components of organizing one—everything becomes more interesting. I ended up learning about giving good pitches, advertising, color psychology, and ways to use rhetoric language in order to persuade an audience.
My fundraising dream may have been a little far-fetched. I wanted to get students to raise money by themselves, and the group that collected more money would be able to cut a teacher's hair!
I was ecstatic. The money collected would go to an organization called Fundacion Pies Descalzos—an organization created by Colombian artist Shakira, which builds schools for poor children around her home country.
This foundation was chosen because my parents are Colombian, and as a Third Culture Kid, this is the place I can call home. I was completely sure that kids and teachers would want to do the activity, and there was where I hit my first bump on the road. How was I to know if teachers would actually let students cut their hair? I formulated a survey that asked teachers if they would be willing to participate, and if so, what would they let students do to their hair. I got permission from the middle school principal, Mrs. Mehrbach, and sent the survey to all the middle school staff. The results were extremely promising. At least 10 teachers answered saying they would let students style and color their hair. That is when I decided what the fundraising activity would be called—Styling the Future. It was an eye-catching name that played with the goal of the fundraiser and the activity itself.
The whole activity was ready. I had made all the plans and I was ready to put everything into action, but I realized I needed to get students excited and involved as well. I found the email address of Fundacion Pies Descalzos and decided to send them an email, explaining the whole process in order to gauge their support. Two later, I received an unexpected reply. They appreciated the support I was willing to give, but they didn’t think the activity would be successful. I replied to say that I had coordinated it all and yet received no reply. I wasn’t about to give up the whole process because they didn’t like the idea.
Colombia has a very special place in my heart, so I was determined to give the funds collected to people there. I asked my family members if they knew about anyone that needed help. I hit the jackpot. There is a school of dance called Estrellas del Rawad in Cartagena, Colombia, which recruits boys and girls from the streets and makes them put all of their energy into dancing. These children never have a meal assured, and sometimes they practice without having eaten anything. My aunt sent me a video of the boys and girls dancing, and I was genuinely surprised to see what beautiful energy they had. Happiness shone through their eyes, even though some of their houses had no floors. I had never been more sure of my decision. I had the activity organized and a place where all of the funds would go. The only thing left to do was send the surveys.
After I got the results, I went to talk to the middle school counselor, to see when the activity could take place. I was told there wasn’t enough time to do this activity, yet I was assured there might be another way to make the fundraiser work.
The process I had been working on for the past week was of no use now, so I created a different way to do the fundraiser. The concept of styling the teachers' hair would stay the same, but now, I would put buckets with pictures of the volunteer teachers on them, and the students would put their spare change into the bucket of the teacher of their choice. For those children who wanted to do the actual styling, they would go to the middle school counseling office and request a form that would instantly give them the opportunity to style the winning teacher's hair. Since this was still a fundraiser, the student who’d fill the form out would donate a certain amount of money as well. I was getting back on track, and now I needed to inform the volunteer teachers of the change.
Suddenly, the teachers said they preferred not to participate! I was extremely disappointed. All the hard work to help other people, and create awareness, crumbled. With a broken heart, I looked back at the slides I had made, thinking of what a shame it was that I couldn't do the fundraiser. Suddenly, I thought of the children I was going to help, and how much they needed that money. Imagine if you were in a position like theirs, living in dangerous slums, taking the risk of being confronted by gangs just by walking on the street. I knew I could not do much, but I was determined to do something.
This time, I wasn’t going to do an activity in school, but I was going to raise funds myself. I started a GoFundMe page, which is an online website that enables people from all around the world to raise money for their personal cause.
I was back at stage one. I had to advertise. This time I used my social media profiles, friends, and family to spread the word. Many SAS teachers contributed to the campaign and at the end of the month, I had raised US$770. This doesn’t seem like much money but it amounts to more than COL$2,000,000. Since the school year was about to start, I wanted to purchase school supplies for the dancer. I sent the money I had collected to a family member in Colombia. She helped me talk to the head of the dance group to see what we could do with the money.
We were able to purchase 35 backpacks for boys and girls. Each bag had five notebooks, rulers, pencils, shoes, personalized shirts, and pants. In addition to all of this, we organized a breakfast during which the gifts would be delivered. With the money that was left over, we bought them sandwiches and smoothies.
As I mentioned before, these kids sometimes do not get enough food, so when they saw the breakfast that we had organized for them they were in awe. Many children even said that there was too much food! We paid for their transportation and gave them goodie bags for them to take home to their siblings.
These kids are truly an example of gratitude and perseverance. They were born into the poverty cycle, which is very hard to escape, especially in a third world country, and they have found a way to put a smile on their face and keep on dancing. Their story is one that should be heard and applauded because many privileged people never realize how fortunate they are until they experience what poverty really is.
My project took many twists and turns, ups and downs, but in the end I was able to make a group of children smile by giving them the resources they needed to study. Most importantly, I learned the importance of acting according to your values and that if you work hard and persevere, your dreams will come true. As astronaut Kalpana Chawla said, “The path from dreams to success does exist. May you have the vision to find it, the courage to get on to it, and the perseverance to follow it.” How will you put your values into action?
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