By Erin Manuel, YEA Camper
On January 12th, 2010, a terrible earthquake hit the island of Haiti, killing hundreds of thousands of people. Seven-year-old me saw the photos of tumbled buildings and crying children all over the internet, and my very first thought was that I needed to help. Seeing children just like me suddenly orphaned and alone, mothers frantically searching for their babies, and wreckage all over the streets really touched me. I ran to my room, dumped out my blue plastic piggy bank, and gave my savings—$3.08—to my mom to give to help Haiti. That was the start of my career in social activism.
Even though I was a quiet kid who hid behind my parents when strangers approached, I decided to start selling my artwork and photography at the local farmers market to raise funds to support health, food, and education programs in Haiti. To date, I’ve raised over $16,000, visited and volunteered at a new school in Port-au-Prince, and given numerous presentations about the work that I do and what others can do to make a difference in the world.
Last year, however, I began to feel a little burned out from fundraising. I really wanted to do something hands-on that would have a more direct impact on the students I support.
That’s where YEA Camp came in. When I applied, I was apprehensive and not sure it would be worth it.
However, within the first hour of camp, I met lifelong friends and already felt like a part of a whole. During the week I spent at the Massachusetts YEA Camp, I became more and more confident in myself and my cause, and started feeling empowered–like I actually could change the world.
At camp, I learned important lessons about social activism and felt encouraged not give up on my work for Haiti. It is because of YEA Camp that I have created new ways to make a difference beyond raising funds. It has also helped me stay passionate and focused during these rough political times.
My latest project is called Reach for the Sun. When I visited the school I support in Haiti last April, I realized the urgent need for sources of renewable energy. While they have power at the school, it is intermittent and constantly goes on and off, which is very distracting during the school day. This energy problem has been in the back of my mind since my visit, but I felt pretty helpless to do anything about it. After all, I am just a teenager from a small rural town in North Carolina. But YEA Camp inspired me to take action despite my fears and reservations.
So I developed a plan at my project-based high school to bring a solar-powered USB device charging station to the school in Haiti. I am currently leading a team of students at my own school to learn about, design, install, and trouble-shoot a prototype station. This station will be useful for students and teachers to charge their cell phones and devices. I am raising funds to travel to Haiti next fall to help the Haitian students install another station at their school. It is my hope that the installation of this much needed resource will encourage students to consider other things they might do to improve their school and/or lives. I also want students at both schools to see that young people have the power to make a change in the world, and that it is imperative to reach out to one another across borders to make the world a more just and compassionate place. Thank you, YEA Camp, for helping this idea come to life.To learn more about me and/or my cause, please visit the following links:
If you’re a teen like Erin who wants to make a difference on a cause you care about, check out YEA Camp this summer!