High school students helping Haitians go green

April 16, 2010 5:43:12 PM PDT
A group of Chicago high school students is working to help Haiti by giving the people in one village tools they needs to go green.

They are students and environmentalists -- but mostly humanitarians. That's the way you might describe some local teens who started a "green" project to help Haiti -- long before the earthquake hit.

These young ladies at Mother McAuley High School on the city's Far South Side call themselves the "EcoMacs." They joined the afterschool club to help promote a "green" lifestyle. It has turned into a project that may change lives across the world.

"The whole town can be lighted for the first time ever. Many of these kids haven't even seen a light bulb," said Kim Schmidt, a junior at Mother McAuley.

With help from teachers Roz Iasillo and Brian Sievers, the girls designed and collected equipment for a solar panel system and an LED lighting system for this school in Pichon, Haiti.

"After having been to Haiti, there are faces. There are names. There's Abner and Pierre and Laverne, and all of these people that we met and children that we met that we know will directly benefit," said Iasillo.

The equipment will provide electricity in a town that has never had electricity before. In fact, there isn't even a grid or infrastructure for it.

"We're going to wire up their buildings and give them lights, so that way they can have classes during the nighttime, giving them an expanded educational system," said Ana Vazquez, a junior.

Right now, the school only serves young children. With lights, they can open the school after hours for high school and adult education classes.

The girls also built a biodiesel processor. It will allow villagers to make fuel that's inexpensive and renewable. Some believe this could slow the deforestation in Haiti. Most trees are cut down there to supply wood-based charcoal. With this system, Haitians can burn the oil from the fruit of jatropha trees, which grow like weeds in the countryside.

"It grows in some of the worst soil imaginable, so you can use the good soil for corn, bananas, beans, stuff they can eat," said Brian Sievers, a consultant to EcoMacs.

The McAuley students also conducted a tool drive called "Hand Tools for Haiti." They wanted families to be equipped to rebuild and repair.

"As a teacher, we can teach them everything under the sun about physics or biology, but if we teach them to care about other people and to reach out and to use what knowledge they have to help other people, we've done our job," said Sievers.

Now that all of the equipment has been gathered, the girls are now trying to raise money to ship the materials to Haiti. They estimate that cost could climb as high as $10,000.

For more information about the project, or to find out how you can help, go to mothermcauley.org/biodiesel/bio_index.html.


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