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Students organize drive for Typhoon Haiyan relief

Updated: 
April 15, 2014 - 5:33am

The day after Super Typhoon Haiyan — one of the most powerful storms ever recorded — devastated the Philippines, the English Language Learners at Kealakehe Intermediate School pondered the heavy damage inflicted on the many islands in the archipelago nation and their uncertain future.

Their substitute teacher — the school’s ELL coordinator Myfanwy Brunner — led the discussion, asking the students to consider how they would feel in a similar predicament and what they would like or need to cope. The students began making lists of items.

Some also shared their knowledge and experiences of living in island communities where typhoons are commonplace. A few had only moved to Hawaii from the Philippines about a year ago.

Soon Brunner, ELL teachers Maurianne Nohejl and Kim Kozak, and the school’s 92 ELL students were brainstorming ideas to help the Philippines. They came up with the idea to collect clothing, school supplies and dental items.

The cause coincides perfectly with Kealakehe’s vision statement, “Relationships are the heart of all learning,” as well as its mission to “nurture the mind and spirit of our students.” This effort has also provided an opportunity to explore empathy, compassion and altruism with pupils — one that shows schoolchildren who have a genuine wish to contribute that they can keep this intention alive and make it a reality, Brunner said.

Monday morning, ELL students happily packed boxes of donated items, as well as made origami animals and cards. They wrote messages of hope, encouragement and support.

When seventh-grader David Falefa, 13, heard the news of Super Typhoon Haiyan last November, he was struck by the death toll, the number of people missing, and the millions affected.

“So many lost so much and not just stuff,” he said. “I kept thinking what if this happened here to my family, what would I do? I would help. I would not let a nation die.”

This effort was a way to get involved. He appreciated the support from his teachers, school and community, all of which encourage the students to try to make a difference, even if it’s just a small one. The best part, he said, is how the effort allows his peers to work together and learn more about other cultures while also helping another nation. He hopes the recipients feel “surprised, happy and blessed.”

Seventh-grader Sepe Palik, 13, felt sad about the situation in the Philippines and wanted to help “make them peace.” Her grandmother has always talked about the importance of helping those in need and Palik saw this effort as a chance to do just that.

“If we didn’t help each other out then we wouldn’t leave with peace and there wouldn’t be the word love in this world,” she wrote in her card.

Palik said one’s race, culture and everyday differences don’t matter; “only heart” was most important. “This shows how we care and want to help make the world a better place,” she added.

Everything will be delivered in June by participants in University of the Nations’ Crisis Response Discipleship Training School and Youth With A Mission, who will be providing physical, emotional and spiritual needs to those affected by the disaster.

University of the Nations and YWAM got involved with this drive because their members regularly tutor ELL students on Wednesdays. A few members also further motivated and inspired the students by sharing how they traveled to the Philippines immediately following the typhoon to help provide medical care, food, clean water technology, solar, and other humanitarian aid.

Aurelio “Rheo” Loseo has been serving the poor and needy in his home country for roughly 30 years. He’s the former YWAM Philippines national director and is helping lead rebuilding efforts in the Philippines with University of the Nations. He said University of the Nations and YWAM have made a long-term commitment toward helping those affected by the typhoon, with teams being sent every quarter. There are also plans to set up a donation distribution center in Tacloban, the hardest hit city, and to build 100 homes.

Other key contributors and partners in this drive were Dr. Douglas Dierenfield and Dr. Gabriel Uy who gave dental supplies; Robert J. Clancey Limited, a 61-year-old aloha apparel company, that donated piles of new clothing; and Renee Puou, a friend of the ELL teachers, who transported the donated goods from Oahu to the school. The ELL students and teachers repeatedly expressed gratitude to all donors, saying this wouldn’t have happened without them.

Donations are still being collected and those interested in contributing may contact Brunner at the school. To learn more about the University of the Nations and its missions, go to uofnkona.edu.