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The new philanthropists: Silicon Valley teens

Resource type: News

San Francisco Chronicle |

Original Source by Meredith May, Chronicle Staff Writer A group of Kenyan orphans is tasting milk for the first time. On a train platform in India, teachers are giving lessons to children whose families force them to beg from passengers. And in Thailand, health workers are showing Burmese refugees how reduce their chances of contracting HIV. All three projects are largely funded by Bay Area students. Meet the new philanthropists – Silicon Valley teens with innate computer networking skills, affluent family connections and the one-click ability to bear witness to global poverty. “Their sense of justice is different than ours growing up,” said Sue Schwartzman of the Jewish Community Endowment Fund, whose youth foundation gave away $204,000 in global charity in June. A portion funded the train station schools in India. “I think a lot of Bay Area kids understand that their lives are great and when they see these pictures from around the world it’s not OK. They want to make other young people’s lives OK, too,” Schwartzman said. The nature of youth activism is becoming increasingly global, said Robert Rhoads, who teaches a course in student activism at UCLA. “It’s a direct result of our increased communication systems, our easier access to global travel, and more contact with international students in schools and universities,” he said. This generation of high schoolers became painfully aware of global politics as middle schoolers on 9/11. They are also the first set of students to be taught by teachers who were required to do community service in order to get a high school diploma. That lesson of giving back, or paying it forward, is becoming part of their psyche. From Facebook’s “One” clickable charity campaign to Al Gore’s inconvenient truths or U2 frontman Bono’s Product Red push for Africa, this generation is steeped in a popular culture of giving. “I think deep in their bones 9/11 showed them that something is wrong with our culture, that we can’t solve the world’s problems anymore with individual competition and self-interest,” said Robert Freeman, a history teacher at Los Altos High who last year started a charitable nonprofit with his students, One Dollar for Life. Borrowing the simple church collection plate strategy, the students started collecting dollars in their own school and neighboring Silicon Valley schools to raise money for global causes. In 18 months, they raised nearly $26,000 from students, enough to build a classroom for Kenyan children who were going to school in a horse barn, put 60 desks in an empty classroom in Malawi, buy two milk cows for a Kenyan orphanage and ship 452 bicycles to Africa so children wouldn’t have to walk for miles to get to school. This year, the students helped prevent young girls from a life of sexual slavery in Nepal. They raised enough to buy 20 piglets for the Nepal Youth Opportunity Foundation, which gives parents the animals to try to dissuade them from selling their girls to brothels. Once the piglets mature, the parents can sell the pig for $50 – as much or more than sex traffickers would pay for their daughters. Several of Freeman’s students returned this month from another project in Nepal, where they finished construction on a three-room school for 84 primary students who were attending class under a tree. “It’s astonishing to see what happens when the students realize that their choices are between the regular or video iPod, between Juicy jeans or True Religion, and then they meet people who have to decide which child to feed,” Freeman said. While building the classroom for Naro Moru Secondary School in Kenya, the Silicon Valley students visited the sprawling Kibera slums in Nairobi. A Kenyan youth led them over a gutter and through a hole to host them in his 10-by-10 foot wooden shack. “I was worried about how the American kids would react,” said Macheru Karuku, director of SEANET, the Kenyan nonprofit that oversaw the school construction project. “I was encouraged when I talked with them later and they realized how lucky they were to be living in good houses back in America, adding that they would never forget what they had seen,” he said. Teen giving is expanding beyond the privilege of the privileged. This year, the John and Marcia Goldman Foundation of Brentwood gave $10,000 to Eastside College Preparatory School in East Palo Alto to start Project Give. The middle school students, the majority of whom come from low-income families, spent the year researching nonprofits before deciding to parse the money among Bay Area charities dedicated to cancer, AIDS and leukemia prevention. The sixth-graders were inspired to host an auction and buffet and recycle cans to raise an additional $350. Project Give was such a hit that the students are already geared up to fundraise again when school starts. Their next big cause? Africa. Margaret Lewis: A buck at a time, donations add up Like so many good ideas, it started out with a sketch on a piece of scratch paper. One Dollar for Life began two years ago as an idea between Los Altos High student Margaret Lewis and her world studies teacher, Robert Freeman. There are 23 million high school students in America, they figured. If each gave a dollar, they could make a sizable dent in world poverty. Lewis went on a class-to-class speaking tour. She shared pictures she had taken over the summer while living for seven weeks with a host Kenyan family in a rural village outside Nairobi. “As a teenager, it feels like everybody is asking me to embrace the reality of the world but not to change it,” said Lewis, who graduated this year and is going to study film at Tisch School of the Arts at New York University in the fall. “I told the students that our parents were hippies who rebelled at our age – what are we waiting for? They could afford a dollar from their lunch money, or their work fund.” The idea spread, and the students who joined the One Dollar for Life movement collected $9,000 that first year, enough to build a classroom for a school in Naro Moru, Kenya. Lewis helped build that classroom, and then went to Nepal this summer to build another classroom for children who were attending school under a tree. Her experiences have helped Lewis decide she wants to be a documentary filmmaker and a humanitarian activist. “We’re the 9/11 generation, who grew up watching our country go to war,” she said. “How can we not be interested in global charity?” – Meredith May Eastside: Eighth-graders get philanthropy lesson Lalo Lopez, 13, spent a summer weekend dancing on a street corner with a carwash sign, trying to generate customers for a breast cancer fundraiser. But his eighth-grade year at Eastside College Preparatory School in East Palo Alto changed him from a regular kid to a kid with a cause. Lalo and his eighth-grade class got their first taste of philanthropy from a class lesson called Project Give. Using a $10,000 grant from the John and Marcia Goldman Foundation of Brentwood, the students researched nonprofit organizations to decide who should get the money. They gave presentations to their peers to narrow their original list of 38 possible grantees to nine. Short-listers were invited to campus so the student benefactors could interview the grownups. They were tough. “I asked them what they would do with the money to make sure it helped the local community,” said Karina Macias, 13. Finally, the students settled on a handful of charities dedicated to cancer, AIDS and leukemia prevention. For most of the students, it was the first time they had been on the giving side of charity. “I’m more selfless now,” Lalo said. “Before it was like, ‘Brain tumors? I don’t have one so why should I care?’ But now I want to help. That’s why I did the carwash when my auntie asked me.” For Karina, she thinks more now about how she’s going to give back, instead of what she’s going to get. “I never knew how satisfying it was to make other people happy,” Karina said. Teachers are already planning Project Give II. Next time, Eastside College Prep kids will send their money to Africa. – Meredith May Sasha Mironov: Camera is a lens on world poverty By the time she was 15, Sasha Mironov of San Mateo had helped fund a well in Chad for Darfur refugees and an after-school program in Israel to bring Arab and Jewish children together. Closer to home, she raised money for the Bread Project in Berkeley, a culinary training program for low-income and unemployed people. She raised $8,000 in all, by writing letters to family friends. “I feel I’m personally making a difference in the world, even as a teenager,” she said. “When I started this, I couldn’t even drive.” Well she’s behind the wheel now, and her fundraising has also speeded up. Last summer, she took a photo excursion to Thailand through an eco-travel teen program, Rustic Pathways. What she captured through her lens broke her heart. Burmese refugees, living in huts made of leaves, with no electricity, no running water and no toilets. “I was struck by how friendly the people were and how much they enjoyed life but also by how much their lives could be improved,” she said. Back home, she contacted the American Jewish World Service, which helped her find the Shan Women’s Action Network, which runs three medical clinics providing prenatal and pediatric care in Burmese refugee camps. Mironov had a new cause. By the time she finished her junior year at San Francisco’s Lick-Wilmerding High School in May, she had collected another $4,000 and sent it to Burma. This summer, she’s going on another photo excursion to India. She can’t promise she’ll come home with only photos. “What I feel is necessary to be a good human is to go out and help the world,” she said. – Meredith May Get involved One Dollar for Life Student dollar collection campaign benefiting developing countries, based at Los Altos High School. Contact Robert Freeman, (650) 575-3434, Nepalese Youth Opportunity Foundation Education, housing, health care, human rights to destitute children in Nepal. Based in Sausalito. (415) 331-8585, Sustainable Environment and Agriculture Network (SEANET) Nonprofit based in Nanyuki, Kenya, responsible for building Naro Moru Secondary School with funding and labor provided by Silicon Valley teens through the One Dollar for Life program. Contact Macheru Karuku, Jewish Community Teen Foundations Five teen foundations within the Jewish Community Endowment Fund show youth how to become philanthropists and run their own nonprofit foundations. Contact Sue Schwartzman, director of youth philanthropy, (650) 919-2100 ext. 8007,, Project Give Eastside College Preparatory School Contact Amy Kurzeke,,

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