Archbishop's web site Denver Catholic Register Parishes Catholic Pastoral Center

February 21, 2001


Annunciation students reach out to El Salvador
Students from low income neighborhood respond to tragedy

By Roxanne King

When an earthquake hit El Salvador Jan. 13, killing over 800 people and leaving up to a half million homeless, Annunciation seventh grader Thania Gomez and four classmates set out to help.

Enlisting aid from their families, the girls sold snacks and flowers at school and parish events and in just 10 days raised nearly $1,400. With shy pride, Gomez, Jessica Garcia, Adriana Becerril, Blanca Perez and Rachael Murrieta gave their donation to Patty Lawless, coordinator for Project Salvador, a development and aid organization, during a school assembly Feb. 1.

"It made me cry," Lawless said, describing her reaction to the student initiated project.

"You guys were the only school that did anything (to help), so that's very impressive," Lawless told the students.

That the students come from one of the poorest Catholic schools in the diocese makes their efforts all the more impressive, said school social worker Sheila Karpon.

Of the 167 students enrolled, 80 percent are Hispanic and 20 percent are African American — 94 percent of the students qualify for the free and reduced lunch program Karpon said.

"People in the school and parish were very generous — many of them are from Mexico and have solidarity with those in need," Karpon said. "It's heartwarming that they reached out even though they don't have a lot of excess themselves."

Families donated baked goods, snacks and tacos to sell after Mass and during basketball games. Perez got roses donated and the girls sold those during parent teacher conferences. The students also solicited donations.

Five days after receiving the money, Lawless gave a presentation to the student body about life in El Salvador and the effect of the magnitude 7.7 quake, which was followed by a 6.1 tremor last week that killed another 67 people, according to news reports. The quakes caused an estimated $1 billion in damage.

"The (Jan. 13th) 50-second earthquake is estimated to have done more damage than 12 years of war," Lawless told the students. "It left up to 10 percent of the population homeless."

The money the girls raised will be used to help Salvadorans rebuild their homes, she added.

"The rainy season is coming," Lawless said, explaining that without homes, the wet weather can lead to an increase of disease and diarrhea. "Right now it's the windy season and people are having to live with that discomfort."

Students were struck by the simplicity and poverty of Salvadoran village life depicted in a video Lawless showed. Images included a family making adobe bricks for a home, students studying in a primitive school building and two teenage girls working at a medical clinic.

"Those young women learn how to give shots, do well baby checks and deliver babies," Lawless said, explaining that the two have about a sixth grade education and special training. "They don't have the resources to go to college, but they're still smart people."

The earthquakes damaged much of the infrastructure, including many medical facilities, Lawless said. While some villages were completely destroyed, the residents of towns less damaged immediately collected beans, rice, corn and basic necessities for their neighbors, according to reports from Sister of St. Joseph Elena Jaramillo, a pastoral worker from the archdiocese who lives in Tierra Blanca.

Faith is made visible when people reach out to help others, Lawless said.

"Like much of the developing world, the people have few resources and need the support of people in our country to help them," Lawless said. "They have an incredible spirit and faith — when they receive help they see it as an extension of God's love for them."

Touched by the vulnerability of the homeless in Denver, Gomez approached Karpon determined to do something to help. "Then we heard about the earthquake and decided to do that instead," the quiet 12-year-old said. Her friends agreed. "Those people really need our help," Garcia said. "They didn't have anywhere to go," Becerril added. The student initiated project is proof that "young people have the heart connections we'd like them to have," Karpon said. "Young people can be a real inspiration," she said. Donations can be mailed to Project Salvador, Earthquake Relief Fund, Box 300105, Denver, CO 80203-0105.


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