Fourteen students have started a three-year project helping a group a orphans living in Rwanda.
WINDERMERE Until a few weeks ago, the 14 teenagers were just acquaintances - faces they saw in the hallways at Windermere Preparatory School.
Now, they text, chat and meet up regularly because they have a common goal - helping orphaned children living in Rwanda through a partnership with ZOE, a faith-based organization empowering orphans in Africa.
“It’s a really cool opportunity to do something like this,” said sophomore Becca Sealy. “We’re taking the initiative to get this done.”
The idea for the project began after several of the students’ mothers took a trip to Africa to see the work ZOE is doing. When they returned from the trip, they started brainstorming ideas on how to help the orphans they visited.
“We thought, ‘Oh my gosh, wouldn’t it be cool (if would could help them)?’” parent Ann Eppinger said.
From there, the project started snowballing, Eppinger said, and within a few weeks, 14 students had volunteered to take the project on.
“It’s kind of awesome,” said former Windermere Prep student, Addy Montalvo, now a sophomore at Windermere High. “We’re in such a different situation than them, so it makes you want to work that much harder to help them.”
But the project is no small task.
The group has to raise $24,000 in three years - $8,000 per year. Each student has taken on the challenge of raising $600 per year.
“When I first heard that we had to raise $8,000 a year, that’s a lot of money to try and raise,” Sealy said.
But the group has enthusiastically stepped up to the challenge.
“You dive head-first into it,” said sophomore Matthew Kane. “It’s really fun.”
The students will be directly supporting a group of Rwandan orphans, who have named themselves the Abanyamurava Group - meaning "Brave Group.” For the next three years, the orphans will be taught a variety life skills so that they will have the means to support themselves and their families once they graduate from the ZOE program.
“It’s so cool that these kids are working so hard to raise themselves up and that we can work with them,” Sealy said.
So far the teenagers have spearheaded two fundraising efforts - a clothing driving and used electronics drive.
“I was pretty impressed with their enterprising,” Eppinger said.
For both drives, the students collect the items and resell them to raise money for the project.
“A lot of things people have in excess of,” Kane said. “They donate to us their items, which lets us get that money for our donation.”
The idea to hold an electronics drive came from sophomore Connor Totilas.
“Since the iPhone 8 just came out, people will be getting rid of their phones,” he said.
In addition to these two ongoing drives, the group hopes to eventually sell items made by the Rwandan orphans, such as baskets, cards, purses and jewelry boxes.
At the end of the three years, the students will have the opportunity to visit Rwanda and meet the children they supported - a trip that many of the teenagers are looking forward to.
Last week, the group wrote letters to the children and are hoping to get a list soon of the children’s names who they are working to support.
“It will be really cool to see the progress that they make from where they were,” Sealy said.