By ANDREW NELSON, Staff Writer | Published May 7, 2009
The goal for the student club Project Zambia at Holy Spirit Preparatory School is within reach two years after students brainstormed how to help peers in the South African country.
Approaching the milestone of raising some $46,000, students at the club at the independent Catholic school are wrapping up the enterprise that aims to build a 100-bed student dormitory.
“I know it’s hard to be a normal student. I couldn’t imagine having to worry about my sleeping conditions or my own food,” said Lauren Winkler, a co-president of Project Zambia.
At the school on Northside Drive, students surf the Web wirelessly, compete on top-notch athletic fields and have a seemingly endless supply of food in the cafeteria.
Meanwhile, students at Minga Secondary School in Zambia sleep on reed mats in an old kitchen and a few small huts. Electricity is a luxury the small Catholic school doesn’t have. Teacher turnover is high since they live as poorly as students.
Winkler, Christopher Oppermann and Kayla Kaeding were spurred to action after hearing about life in the land-locked South African country. And the three organizers expected to surpass the group’s fundraising goal on Wednesday, May 6, at a parent volunteer appreciation dinner and bingo.
The cause is an effort to expand Holy Spirit Preparatory School’s promotion of social justice and the fight against poverty.
Zambia is a poor country, where the average person lives on $770 a year. Some 80 percent of Zambian young people do not attend secondary school.
The project took off when the students heard Christopher Petrauskis, a brother of a math and science teacher, talk to them about his experience as a missionary and researcher in the country.
Oppermann, a senior heading to Harvard University, and the others were dedicated to raise the money to build a dormitory for this Catholic school where there are 300 weekly boarders. Oppermann, 18, said he got involved because he didn’t want to “just lament that something was happening but actually do something about it.”
The idea of building a dorm came from talking with Petrauskis and the school’s headmaster, which identified housing as the most pressing concern. The money will pay for construction materials, project management, labor and furnishings for the dormitory. The community near the school will contribute with some of the labor and construction materials, such as bricks, sand, cement.
The building project would get underway as soon as an appropriate way is found to transfer the money to the school, said Oppermann. He said a tentative goal is to start construction by September.
Winkler, a 17-year-old junior, said she was initially intimidated by the fundraising, but through community events and the support of the students, faculty and parents, they chipped away at it.
“It’s going to be great to raise all the money. It’s definitely become a big part of my life,” she said.
Students paid $2 for two Project Zambia black wristbands with one shipped to their peers in Zambia to let them know young people in America were working on their behalf. Bands played at fundraisers and gave all the money for the project. Project members sold food at concession stands, and bingo nights brought together the supporters.
Teacher Michael Petrauskis said the students had been “tenaciously dedicated” to this effort, spending their lunches, free hours after school and their weekends to help middle and high school students they have never met living halfway around the world.
“Awe-inspiring stuff. These kids have big hearts,” he said.
Said Oppermann, “Even though you can’t be thanked for doing something, it is worth doing it.”