Category Archives: High Schools

7th GRADERS WALK FOR WATER

Last school year, an amazing 7th grade class from Texas supported our Water For Life project. We had the chance to talk to their inspiring teacher about the thoughts behind their generous act!

tmi3

Q: Hi Dr. Rebecca Sam! Tell us a little bit about yourself.

A: I am a 7th grade teacher at TMI-The Episcopal School of Texas, located in San Antonio. Many people do not realize it, especially children, but water is a very important resource here in Texas. I do a lot of work regarding water awareness in the classroom with my students, especially touching on worldwide water issues.

Q: How did you inspire your students to get involved with our Water For Life project?

A: We watched the video on your website about the wells in Chad, and my students became very emotional. There were some tears and the consensus was “We HAVE to do something to help!” (I’ll admit, this is exactly how I hoped they would respond!)

Q: We heard you used several different tactics throughout the school to spread awareness – tell us about them!

A: Father Michael Koehler, the Middle School Chaplain, and I wanted to make this a very meaningful experience for everyone, so he suggested that we plan to have the 7th graders do a Water Walk during our school’s Green Day (environmental awareness day). This would build awareness both among the 7th graders themselves and the other students on campus. All of the students had so much fun with this! We made it a little competitive for them, and they even experienced what it was like to carry water in buckets for a long distance to their families that day. The entire day had a huge impact on everyone.

tmi2

tmi1

The 7th grade then sponsored a $5 Free Dress Day to raise money. Since TMI is a uniform school, students will jump at any chance to free dress. They raised quite a bit and then we sent it off!

tmi4

Thank you for all that your organization does. It really touched our hearts and we are so happy to be able to help in a small way.

Thank YOU, Dr. Sam! We hope your class is extremely proud of themselves for supporting such an important cause. If anyone else wants to help get clean water flowing in other communities, please visit our website, and stay tuned for our newest water campaign: Coffee Meets Water!

 

2 People like this post

#GuatSquad & Ladrillos: My Week in Guatemala

Last month, we sent a group of high school volunteers to Guatemala to support Project Cookstoves,  an initiative that builds new, energy-efficient cookstoves for families and allows us to promote education, health, and environmental protection! Read below for Joy’s account on this amazing, eye-opening trip. 

11240093_1158282460855158_6934137659889135995_n

By Joy Gursky

A couple weeks ago, I found myself in Guatemala City with a group of twelve other volunteers from different high schools scattered throughout the United States. Waiting for our ride to the hotel from the airport, all of us were exhausted and hoping we had made the right decision in deciding to travel to a foreign country with a group of people we had never met before. We were strangers with one common goal: we wanted to improve the lives of the less fortunate, and we were going to accomplish this by building energy-efficient cookstoves for families in rural Guatemalan villages with Good Neighbors. So, after resting in the hotel, we were off to our first volunteer site. The drive to Patzicía was long (a few hours!), and we were all excited, nervous, and unsure of what to expect.

20150724_111123

Building stoves is, as one might imagine, very difficult work, and there are many preliminary steps. First, all the bricks (or “ladrillos” as they’re called in Spanish) need to be soaked in water for at least a minute to ensure that they don’t just break apart when you lay them down. Dirt, water, and cement need to be mixed separately to put in between the bricks and ensure everything sticks together and the smoke and flames won’t escape. The terrain where the stove will reside needs to be evened out; in some cases the stoves were built in the kitchen, but in others they were built outside under some sort of pavilion.

20150721_145056

Once all these steps have been taken, it is finally time to start laying down the bricks: cinder blocks at the bottom, and the traditional red bricks at the top. After laying them down, the chimney (a cylindrical, hollow, and very, very heavy block made out of cement) needs to be installed. Thankfully, since our team was so large, we were each able to work on the different steps simultaneously to make sure that everything was completed on time.

20150722_100126

Constructing the stoves wasn’t the most fun part of the trip, though. The best part was getting to know the native Guatemalans and the rest of the high school group (we eventually very cleverly named ourselves the “#GuatSquad). The families in the homes we visited didn’t speak any English, but on that first day, all of us so desperately wanted to interact with them that we were willing to walk right up to them and introduce ourselves in the bits and pieces of Spanish that we had learned  forgotten in school years before… even if our American accents were awful. Nevertheless, we tried our best, and by the end of each day we had learned the names of the family, their ages, and where they had been born – all while working together to build the cookstoves. And by the end of the trip, we were having basic conversations with local families and children.

Screen Shot 2015-08-03 at 11.50.29 AM

20150721_173042

One thing that I’ve taken away from our journey is that at home, we really have it easy. In the U.S, we’re fortunate to have microwaves and ovens that heat up our food, pipes that deliver hot water straight into our sinks and bathtubs, and heaters installed into our homes to keep us warm in the winter. For many people in the U.S, it’s difficult to even comprehend not having any of that, since it’s literally in every home; but for people in developing countries it’s a reality. Many Guatemalans who don’t live in the city rely on fire for everything from heating their bath water to cooking their food. This dependency doesn’t come without consequences. Smoke inhaled by families who use fire as a means to survive regularly leads to several health risks including emphysema, cardiovascular disease, and lung cancer–and claims 4 million lives each year, according to the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves.

20150722_123116

If you’re considering volunteering abroad but are having qualms about doing so, my advice to you would be to just do it. Volunteering in a foreign country is a life-changing experience, and your perspective on just about everything will be altered forever. Take some time to read up on the country and culture you’re visiting before you leave. Bring your own hygienic products because you never know when you’ll need them. And most importantly, have fun!       

Thanks for joining our summer volunteer  trip to Guatemala, Joy! Learn more about our Project Cookstoves here, and how to volunteer with us here

 

5 People like this post

The Water Project: Spreading Awareness Through Bake Sales & Pizza

Written by Joy Gursky, President of the Water Project Club at Zoo Magnet High School, Los Angeles, California

6.3.15HS BLOG

Club members Maddie, Joy, Yanelyn, and Ruby all set and ready for their bake sale

Last summer, a viral online challenge known as the “ALS Ice Bucket Challenge” began circulating online. People who participated in the viral challenge had good intentions, but every time I watched a video of someone dumping ice and water on themselves, I couldn’t help but be reminded of the fact that Los Angeles was- and still is- experiencing one of the worst droughts in the city’s history. Furthermore, there are 783 million people around the world who do not have access to clean water.

So, instead of complaining about the injustice of the situation, I decided to at least attempt to do something to make the slightest dent in the issue. I established my school’s Water Project Club to support  Good Neighbors’ Water For Life Project. The goal is to raise money to build wells in developing countries where local people have no clean water. Did you know that 80% of illnesses in developing countries are linked to poor water sanitation? That’s a scary fact!

blog4

Derrick and Virginia support the Water Project!

I founded the club with fifty-five dollars worth of pizza to get the ball rolling (thanks, Mom) and an overwhelming fear of public speaking. The first few meetings were painful, but I stuttered my way through them. Surprisingly, my personal chapter of the club has been very successful from the beginning. We’ve raised $400 through bake sales, created our own t-shirts, and managed to spread awareness surrounding the global water crisis.

blog3

Delicious goodies!

Overall, the Water Project Club has been a phenomenal experience for me. It’s taught me that I want to center my life around serving other people through international travel and aid. In some ways, I really feel like the club has helped me grow up because I’ve learned how privileged I am to live in a place where I never need to worry about where to get something that’s absolutely essential to survival: water.

Thank you for starting such an important club at your school, Joy; and huge thanks to your mom for the pizza and support!  Learn more about how YOU can help people get access to clean water by clicking here

3 People like this post

How One Week In Guatemala Changed My Life

It’s National Volunteer Week and we’re thrilled to share a first-hand experience from one of our amazing volunteers who traveled into the field with us.  Below is a personal essay from Joseph Lee, a high school volunteer who spent a week building new cookstoves for families in Guatemala.  Thanks for sharing your story, Joe!

Joe standing in front of new cookstove

Joe proudly displaying a new cookstove’s donor tile inscribed with his name

Written by Joe Lee, President of the Project Cookstoves Club at Van Nuys High School 

I still remember the first time I set foot inside a traditional home in Guatemala—a country I had no idea would eventually hold a special place in my heart. It was early August in 2014, and I had just stepped off the plane to begin a week of volunteer service with nine other students—eight of whom I had just met that same day. The air was thick, yet the sun shined beautifully that morning. And as we anxiously took our first steps into the vast city, all ten of us were loaded inside a white van that was headed straight for the Good Neighbors Guatemala headquarters.  I looked around the packed vehicle to the nine other students—still strangers to me. We all had the same look on our faces:  tired and apprehensive. Although we didn’t know anything about each other, we all had one thing in common: we were about to embark on an adventure that would ultimately shift our perceptions of the world.

IMG_5358

Arrival into Acatenango.

After a long drive to the rural side of the country, our naps were interrupted by the van’s sudden stop, signaling our arrival in Acatenango. Slowly making my way down the broken streets of the community, I immediately felt foreign and alienated by an environment that was so different from my own. How did I end up in a place like this? What on earth am I doing here? My mind was racing with these questions. We arrived at a small, run-down house that resembled almost all the other houses in the village. “Come inside,” said Jorge, our team leader as he beckoned us in with warm gestures. One by one, we each stepped in past the single narrow door that brought us into the modest and humble life of a Guatemalan family.

GTM-C531-A0111-1

A family in Acatenango stands next to their traditional cookstove. My fellow volunteers and I built them a brand new stove during our trip!

I still remember this moment very clearly. Entering the dark and cramped room, I was inundated by a strong, suffocating cloud of smoke that instantly watered my eyes to the point of soft tears. My breaths became heavier, and I felt a pungent burn in my eyes. Out of desperation, I turned to locate the source of the smoke, and there it was: a cookstove, unlike any other, brewing a simple family meal. And, suddenly, the struggles and torments that I had learned about prior to my arrival became a cold reality.

IMG_3041

Another traditional cookstove I saw in Acatenango.

I am a first-hand witness to a crisis that prevails in Guatemala to this day. Project Cookstoves is a Good Neighbors project with a mission to save the lives of millions of Guatemalans who suffer from their traditional stoves. These stoves, which provide daily meals for families, as well as warmth in the home, release toxic fumes that gradually fill each crevice of their cramped home. For a standard house with only one room, the effects are detrimental. Those exposed to the toxic exhaust, including children, immediately begin to feel congested and, thus, find difficulties in breathing, leading to cardiovascular disease, emphysema and lung cancer. According to the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves, there are nearly 5,200 deaths per year in Guatemala alone that are the result of household air pollutants, and over 9.6 million whose health and lives are directly affected. To mitigate this unhealthy exposure, Good Neighbors dedicates itself to building better, safer, and more energy-efficient cookstoves through this project.

Joe pushing a wheelbarrow with soil needed for cookstove

Me pushing a wheelbarrow with soil needed for the new cookstove.

As a student myself, I first became involved with Good Neighbors through my mom, who heard about the organization through her close friend. In the one week that I spent with their team, I participated in multiple activities. Every day from morning to early evening, we visited ten different families in total and worked vigorously to build brand new cookstoves for each one of them. The process involved hours of cement-making, brick-laying, and cookstove-building. We were guided by a local Guatemalan bricklayer, who expertly built each stove. After a long day of working, we would then return to the city, where we ate dinner, washed up, and hung out with one another in the hotel. This part of the day, for me, was always special because it allowed me to spend time with my team. I always found out something new about everyone, and I began to realize that we weren’t so different from each other. By the end of the week, the team became more than a group of random misfits; it was the beginning of new friendships that I know are going to last a lifetime.

Mixing cement with (l-r) Ryan, Nitya, Sunwoo and me.

Guatemala is a beautiful and fascinating country. But it is also a place that is desperately in need of help. While millions of people lead comfortable lives worrying about what kind of clothes they’re going to wear or when they’re going to obtain the latest gadget, the residents of rural Guatemala–as well as many other third-world nations–are struggling to cook a simple family meal without getting harmed by its negative effects. Therefore, it is absolutely imperative that we stand up and make a difference. If we learn to break out of our local confinements and reach out to those who don’t reap the same benefits, the world would be a radically different place. If we don’t rise up and catalyze a change, then no one will. One helping hand, one willing body can make all the difference.

Taking a break with kids from Acatenango (back row l-r: William, Nitya, and me)

A finished cookstove I helped build, donated in my name!

Today, I am still a part of the movement for change in Guatemala. After experiencing a profound conviction from this volunteer trip, I was inspired to educate my peers and raise awareness in my local community. Thus, the Project Cookstoves club was formed at Van Nuys High School. I believe that anyone can make a difference in the world–it all starts with a willing heart. I highly recommend this volunteer trip to all those who want to lend a helping hand. I am confident that it will change your view of this world, as it did to mine.

Me (standing, on right) leading our Project Cookstoves Club at Van Nuys High School.

Wow, thank you Joe for sharing your experience with us.  We are so grateful to have you volunteer with us!  Do YOU want to be inspired, like Joe was?  Click here to read more about how you can volunteer in Guatemala!

6 People like this post

RECAP: THE LA BIG 5K

IMG_1269

Some of the members of Team Good Neighbors after the race!

Saturday, March 14th was an amazing day for Team Good Neighbors – not only did we run a 5K (some for the very first time!), but we raised $5,565 for Project Good Sisters! But we’re not done raising money to support girls’ education and equality in Malawi. If you’re interested in supporting the project, you can still donate and learn more here.

Special shout outs to Ralph, who placed 9th out of 1,000 in his age group, and Nelson, who placed 51st out of 176 in his age group! Amazing job, guys!

FullSizeRender (14)

Some of our team members picking up their shirts and race bibs!

FullSizeRender (13)

Ralph and Steffany – so supportive of one another! Ralph was 9th place out of 1,000 in his age group – congrats!

 

We asked some team members about their day, and this is what they told us….

What was the best part of your day?

Ralph: Seeing my sister finish the race. I made sure to finish the race as fast as possible just so I could race on over to the finish line with my camera and await her arrival with warm encouraging chants and photos. I’m probably her biggest fan and all time supporter and I loved seeing how hard she pushed herself just training for this race. So it was a must for me to see her crossing that finish line. Seeing her smile and realize that all her hard work paid off was the best part of my day!

Matilda: My most favorite part of the day was finishing the run and hearing the supporters applaud us, and then receiving our medal. And it was fun taking pictures with Good Neighbors as a team!

Nelson: Best part of the day was spending time with friends running for a good cause.

Sarah: The 5k overall was so fun! It was my first official run ever and on top of that, it was a big one right before the marathon! I think the overall vibe was my favorite. Everyone was pumped up and ready to start running. It was great to see all the little kids enjoying the run and wearing their t-shirts for charity. There was music, people were cheering, and joining so many people at Dodgers Stadium and Elysian Park was a great experience.

Lauren: It was really fun experiencing the beginning of the race, when everyone is nervous but excited. The best part was getting over that last hill and finally seeing the finish line! Plus, knowing that I helped girls in Malawi by doing something as simple as running a 5k!

IMG_1012

Nellie, Adriana and Lauren excited about finishing the race!

What was the hardest part of the run?

 Ralph: The hardest part of the run was maintaining my speed while going up the hills. I knew they would slow me down but I just had to push myself.

Matilda: The hardest part of the run were the HILLS!! So killer!

Nelson:  Well to me, the whole race was pretty fun but the hills were taking its toll on me, even though I’m used to running. Also, it started to get really hot!

Sarah: The hardest part of the run…was the running. I didn’t manage to run the whole way, but it was still nice even if I did rest time to time!

Lauren: There were a lot of hills, but there were two that definitely made the run extremely hard and made me want to walk!

FullSizeRender (12)

Our two youngest team members, Brennan and Camille, got some help from their grandfather!

Why did you choose to run for Team Good Neighbors?

Ralph: I decided to run for the team because I wanted to support their vision of helping out girls in Malawi. I wanted to make a difference for this awesome cause by giving it my best. I’m a huge supporter of their work.

Matilda: I wanted to have the opportunity to run with Team Good Neighbors because I appreciate all their work and I think it’s so great, all that they do to help people and everything they do as a team effort.

Nelson: I ran for Good Neighbors last year for the LA Marathon, so when I heard about the LA Big 5K this year, I decided to join! It feels good doing what I like for a good cause.

Sarah:  I decided to run because I wanted to raise money and this was a fun way to fundraise!

Lauren: I’m a very active person who loves the outdoors, and nothing beats getting good exercise while helping a great cause!

FullSizeRender (15)

Well deserved medals, ladies!

IMG_0079

Nelson finished 51st out of 176 in his category! Amazing!

IMG_1265

The awesome medals the team received!

What an incredible day! We want to say thank you SO much to all of our team members for all of their fundraising, and for running with us! We’re still shy of our overall fundraising goal, so if you’d like to help us reach it, you can give on our team page.

2 People like this post