Malibu Middle School students step up for Haiti

Students of the school’s ASB class raises more than $2,500 to help victims of the January earthquake.

By Melonie Magruder

Special to The Malibu Times

Malibu Middle School students are learning the value of responsive philanthropy as well as the vitality of world issues study. Following the earthquake that devastated Haiti in January, the school’s Associated Student Body class, taught by Ari Jacobs, quickly put their fund raising heads together and generated enough money to present a check for $2,600 to Partners in Health, a nonprofit that provides medical help and advocacy to the poor.

Lucy Langenkamp, a nurse who works with PIH, accepted the check from the middle school students at a PowerPoint presentation she gave last week, recounting her experiences on the ground in chaotic Port-au-Prince after the tragedy. One of the first photos she showed was of the collapsed nursing school there, the concrete slabs squashed together.

“All of the second- and third-year nursing students died in the earthquake,” Langenkamp told a sobered auditorium of middle school students. “We were unable to recover any of the bodies because there are no machines to move the giant chunks of concrete. I don’t know how they’ll ever recover any of those bodies.”

Langenkamp became interested in medical relief work after she was accepted as an art student to the University of Tibet and saw first-hand the work of Doctors Without Borders. Upon graduation, she pursued nursing degrees and went to Rwanda with PIH’s mission there. She cited the organization’s philosophy of “O for the P”-giving preferential treatment to the poor, since they have no options, and showed slides of success stories at PIH camps.

“You can’t go in like Rambo and force aid on people,” Langenkamp said as the Malibu students gasped at photos of Rwandan babies emaciated from malnutrition. “You have to figure out how to help them help themselves, ideally through a system that is sustainable when you leave.”

When the earthquake occurred on Jan. 12, Langenkamp was at home in Boston and not keen on the idea of going to Haiti, saying she preferred on-going mission work to disaster relief. But the magnitude of the crisis overcame her reservations and she arrived in Port-au-Prince shortly thereafter to find piles of rubble, overworked and understaffed medical teams, thousands of dead and injured, and terrified Haitians sleeping in the streets.

“The nice apartments were destroyed equally with the poor homes, so rich people slept on blankets right next to poor people,” Langenkamp said, showing photo after photo of a city reduced to chunks of cement. “The destruction is so complete, I really don’t know how they will ever recover. They will have to start a whole new city from scratch.”

The Justice Department building was reduced to nothing, while the city morgue was left standing, albeit with no electricity to refrigerate bodies.

What Langenkamp did find was an “incredible camaraderie” amongst relief workers, with international teams pitching in to do whatever was needed. Much was improvised, including identifying clinics with signs hand-written on the backs of cardboard boxes, since every kind of material was scarce.

“We had Norwegian Red Cross workers and Spanish firefighters,” Langenkamp said. “Our own soldiers, who were there only to provide security, would literally carry patients to different tents for treatment.”

After the middle school students determined they wanted to help the victims in Haiti, Jacobs decided part of the curriculum work for his ASB class would be to figure out which charity organization would best utilize the funds raised. After much research and comparison, the students settled on PIH. By coincidence, one of the students’ mothers was Langenkamp’s sister.

“Partners in Health have already been in Haiti for 25 years,” Jacobs said of the class’ decision. “Once the kids fixed on PIH, they donated money from the talent show and the Valentine’s Dance they called ‘Love for Haiti.’ They had a dance-a-thon, a bake sale, a raffle … it was amazing how they responded.”

A year ago, Jacobs, who also teaches high school social studies and coaches baseball, went to Principal Mark Kelly with the idea of creating a new elective class-a study of world issues. Kelly supported the plan and soon, more than 100 high school students had signed up to learn about the greater world at large, how current events impact internationally and about pervasive global poverty. They already knew Haiti was one of the poorest countries in the Western Hemisphere.

Seventh-grader Isaac Vandor is one of the ASB class team leaders. He plans to enroll in Jacobs’ world issues class when he hits high school.

“When we heard about the earthquake, we just knew we needed to do something to help,” Vandor said. “If there’s one thing I could do to help Haiti, it would be to rebuild it smarter and better. The technology exists, they just need the money to do it.”

Langenkamp plans to return to Haiti in a few weeks and will be taking the ASB check with her.

“Haiti is a country that has been devastated for generations, one way or another,” Langenkamp said. “Slavery, poverty, lack of education or basic health needs, HIV. If they can rebuild their government, there might be hope. But I was very inspired by the relief effort I saw there and these children’s generosity makes it even more inspiring.”

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