A teen at Camarillo High School went without a coffee at Starbucks so that she could donate $5 to her school’s Help Educate At-Risk Orphans club.With that java money, one African child will be fed three meals a day for 30 days, said Rita Neumeister, an English teacher and HERO club organizer.
Another girl donated money that she had received for her bat mitzvah. Many others bought burritos and T-shirts sold by HERO members to raise money for and awareness of the United Nations Association of the United States of America campaign, which assists orphans who lost parents to HIV/AIDS.
This is the first year that Camarillo High students have been involved in helping the African orphans. They began their mission by sending pencils engraved with the high school’s name. When photos came back with the children smiling and holding the pencils, the Camarillo students’ hearts opened even wider.
Next, the teens made rubber bracelets with the word HERO stamped on them. They sold 1,500 of the bracelets, raising $1,500 for UNA-USA. Again, realizing the difference that they made generated more enthusiasm.
“The money fed 350 kids three meals a day for two years and provided a medical person to visit them once a week,” Neumeister said.
After their efforts to help the orphans, the students learned that the organization U.S. Agency for International Development made a large donation to UNA-USA, with $19,400 of it earmarked with the HERO club’s name to show appreciation for what the Camarillo students were doing, Neumeister said.
“At first, we felt we’d bit off a lot more than we could chew, but that donation brought us up to another level,” Neumeister said.
“I was so impressed with this school,” said Susan Fox, HERO program manager for UNA-USA. “They are our first high school to get involved in HERO and have been our shining star, a successful model for other schools throughout the country.”
Fox contacted the school and asked if the students would be willing to focus on Namibia, where $2,000 would buy school supplies for 7,000 children for one year.
The HERO club got right to work, planning a Books for Burritos event where members sold burritos and T-shirts and collected books to create a library in Africa.
They sent about $2,100 to Namibia for school supplies, and more than 1,600 books with notes from each student describing why the books were special to them. Neumeister said the one-of-a-kind library includes the Box Car series, Dr. Seuss books, “The Giving Tree” and other titles that the Namibian children would not otherwise have had a chance to read.
“The school they are sponsoring in Namibia is really made of sticks and ropes. Their help is going to make a huge difference,” Fox said.
“I donated a book called ‘Dealing with Dragons’ because I like fantasy,” said Catherine Billings, 15. “Now that I know how such a little thing for me does so much for others, I think twice about spending money on myself.”
To increase students’ awareness of others around the world, Neumeister wants to lead a group trip to Africa. And other high schools and junior highs throughout the county have shown an interest in bringing the program to their schools, Neumeister said.
Passing on that awareness to other students is one of Neumeister’s goals for next year, along with having Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie come to the school to tell the students about Namibia, where the celebrity couple’s baby was born this month.