Wednesday, November 27, 2002

Cape kids help Tibetan refugees

Published in the Current

Cape Elizabeth High School students have raised hundreds of dollars for a school for Tibetan refugees in northern India. During lunchtime, students are staffing a table, selling raffle tickets for a drawing to be held Dec. 18.

Prizes for the raffle include gift certificates to local restaurants and businesses and movie passes to nearby cinemas. At the top of the bill are two Compaq laptop computers donated by Konica in South Portland, the workplace of a student’s parent.

Students learned of the school, the Siddhartha School in Leh, the capital city of the northern Indian state of Ladakh, from social studies teacher Ray Cooper. Cooper heard about the school last year when its founder, Geshe Lobzang Tsetan, spoke to Cooper’s Buddhism class at the Bangor Theological Seminary campus in Portland.

Cooper wanted to help and started raising money by charging students who forgot their pens or pencils 25 cents for a replacement, which he used to offer for free.

The idea was to impress upon Cape students the sacrifices other kids make for their education. “These guys (in Ladakh) don’t get their education for free,” Cooper said.

Near the end of the year, the jar of money was stolen. A school-wide effort to replace the money was launched and may have helped the success of this year’s fund-raising efforts, according to student Allie Theriault, who is one of 15 or 20 students involved in this year’s project.

The money was replaced, and more, resulting in $150 in donations for the Siddhartha School, including matching funds from Cooper.

Theriault and others picked up the torch this year and decided to start a raffle to raise money. They didn’t expect much, but one day a student came in and said his father’s business would donate two laptop computers.

Since then, it has been easy to get people to buy the tickets, which cost $2 each or three tickets for $5. In the first four days, just sitting at the table during lunch, the students raised $179, with ticket sales expected to continue. A donation jar for spare change is also on the table, and the total in the jar remains uncounted to date.

The money will be used to support the school, which now has grades kindergarten through six and 135 students. Tsetan wants to have grades kindergarten through 10 and 200 students, but needs money to build additional rooms onto the school.

Students learn four languages, Tibetan, Ladakhi, English and Hindi, reflecting their cultural heritage and preparing them to work in a larger world. Hindi is the primary language of India and English is spoken by many people around the world.

The entrance into the Cape high school library now has a display of items of Buddhist culture, made by student Lindsay Dana with items owned by her and by Cooper.

The Cape students want to sponsor a student at the school, but may be able to do much more, depending on how much money they raise by Dec. 18.

Students recognize that donated money will go further in India than it might here, said student Anna Stressenger.

“You know that’s going to directly benefit the kids,” said Rebecca Taylor. Tsetan is dedicated to the students, Taylor said. “He is so committed to making a change in their lives.”

The students encouraged their classmates to give generously and buy tickets.

“That $2 they’re going to spend on a cookie could actually have a lasting impact,” Taylor said.