Laurel student’s birthday wish: a new school in Haiti -- Gazette.Net


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For her 13th birthday, Utopia Diabe didn’t want a huge party, a new smartphone or new clothes. The seventh-grade student at St. Mary of the Mills School in Laurel asked for a new school for children in Haiti.

“We were planning to have a party and I just thought that the money spent on the party was a one-time thing, and if the money goes to a good cause, the effects will last for a long time,” Utopia said. “So that money will go towards helping people instead.”

Utopia is hoping to raise money to build a new school for the students in the city of Camp Perrin in Haiti. She said she accompanied her mother to the school in 2011 and 2012 on mission trips through her mother’s nonprofit group, Dorcas Works, after a devastating 2010 earthquake in Haiti.

“We visited some schools, and I distributed food there, and school supplies,” Utopia said. “When I was there, I thought the people there were very kind, and to see that they’re happy with what they have, it really made me think about all the times I have been selfish and not satisfied with the things that I already have.”

Utopia, who turned 13 on Jan. 27, held a fundraising party Feb. 1 to solicit donations for the new school.

Carmelie Montuma, a project coordinator with the Pan American Development Foundation, said the school is especially needed in Camp Perrin.

“There are usually 100 middle school students stuck in a two-, three-room building,” Montuma said in an email. “Building this school will create a conducive and comfortable learning environment.”

So far, Utopia said, she has raised $700 toward the $15,0 00 needed for the first phase of the project. She has sent letters to various organizations asking them to help with funding on the project.

“They’re prone to earthquakes, so you’d have to build an entirely new school for it to be safe. So I said, ‘Why don’t we build a new school that will be safer and bigger?’” Utopia said.

Utopia’s mother, Joanna Diabe, said that since 2012, the two have been purchasing, collecting and mailing school supplies, clothes and other items to students in Haiti, but Utopia wanted to do something more.

“Most kids here, they don’t want to go to school, but over there, they feel that without school, they will not succeed in life,” Utopia said.

Utopia said that one day, she would like to become a famous actress and writer, so she will have the fame and resources to help people in other countries.

“I feel that I can be a role model for teenagers when I tell them my story of wanting to help other people,” Utopia said.

Joanna Diabe said she and Utopia plan to travel to Haiti next year for a planned groundbreaking.

The project website can be found at www.gofundme.com/67aegg.

Joanna Diabe said she is proud of her daughter for giving up her birthday party and for her other goals, which include founding a girls’ school in Afghanistan.

“When other teenagers are asking for a new phone or something, she is asking for a school for Haiti,” Joanna Diabe said. “I am so proud of her. I couldn’t ask for a better daughter.”

Montuma also commended Utopia for her work.

“I can see Utopia devising programs to end world poverty,” Montuma said in an email. “She will be an example to so many teenagers.”

janfenson-comeau@gazette.net