Students raise money for Ecuadorian earthquake relief

Emily Cerf

Students who traveled to Ecuador for a service trip at the time that a 7.8 earthquake struck the country are working alongside members of the student-run “Conpanamaneros” club at Redwood to raise money for relief for people living in devastated areas.

The service group of 22 students and two chaperones were doing reforestation work in Ecuador during the week of April 16 when the earthquake hit. The trip was led by Global Student Embassy (GSE), an organization whose mission is “to develop community leaders through action oriented environmental education.” The Conpanamaneros club is comprised of students who have attended GSE trips in the past.

The group of students were in the town of Bahia, where 90 percent of the buildings have been slated for demolition, just days before the earthquake struck. Many of the close friends they made during the trip lived in this town, and the students’ personal experiences have led many of them to take up efforts to raise money for Ecuador relief.

Students were in Ecuador when a 7.8 earthquake struck the country.

These efforts have included filming a video for RedwoodTV explaining the current conditions in Ecuador and offering their support for projects to rebuild. The Conpanamaneros club also organized a fundraiser that raised $220 at the local restaurant Pig in a Pickle, where 10 percent of proceeds from the meal of anyone who mentioned Redwood went directly to GSE. Additionally, they have placed boxes in homeroom classes which allow students and faculty to donate directly. The Redwood community has raised about $4000 to date, according to Kaufman.

The money raised by the two groups will go to GSE, and GSE will direct 100 percent of this money to Ecuador relief, according to Jonathan Kaufman, the GSE regional coordinator for Marin County.

In the days following the earthquake, this money supported purchases of food, medicine and water. Since then it has been directed toward training high school students to raise awareness about the earthquake as well as training local builders in “sustainable earthquake-safe bamboo construction,” according to Kaufman.

“[GSE is] unique because they have their own connections to people that they’ve worked with for five-plus years. I think [they] can find people better and help those who really need it faster,” said Simone Wolberg, co-president of the Conpanamaneros club.

Some students in the group expressed guilt about staying in a five-star resort in Panama en route to California while the whereabouts of their friends in Ecuador were unknown.

“It was hard for some people to think, ‘Wow I’m staying in this beautiful place and my friends could be dead.’ That’s when we started to really think, ‘How can we help?’” Peterson said.

Wolberg did not attend the Ecuador trip, but she empathized with trip members and felt motivated to raise money.

“I wanted to give back because the group was so kind to me, and I can’t imagine the people who knew the Ecuadorian kids and how they must feel. [It] must feel awful to know that they don’t have homes anymore,” Wolberg said.

As of a press release from USAID on April 19, the U.S. government had donated $100,000 to Ecuadorian relief. However, as of April 26, more than $1.3 million in “humanitarian assistance” has been provided by the United States. Some students from the trip considered the initial amount to be inadequate.

“The amount the U.S. had sent to Ecuador was laughable and almost sad,” Peterson said. “My response when someone told me [the $100,000 figure] was ‘I think there are a lot of people here in Marin with cars worth more than $100,000.’”

Peterson believes that a lack of awareness about the earthquake has been an inhibiting factor in garnering support for the cause.

“I know there are a lot of people out there that would help if they knew about it,” Peterson said. “There aren’t that many people that know how they can help or what’s going on.”

Peterson and Wolberg both indicated that they will continue to raise money for Ecuador relief in the future, and are in the planning stages of throwing events such as car washes and benefit dinners.