March 21, 2012

Princeton High School Students Collect Laptops To Donate to an Elementary School in Peru


FROM PRINCETON TO PERU: Princeton High School students who spent a week living with a family in Peru last year are, left to right, front row: Mia Quinn, Rebecca Goldman, Liana Bloom, Elise Mazur, and Rebecca Freda. Back row: Menelaos Mazarakis. The students are collecting used laptops to donate to the elementary school in the town they visited, which was devastated by mudslides.

Last July, Princeton High School Spanish teacher Martha Hayden took a group of 23 students on a trip to her native Peru. After a week of sightseeing and touring, 17 of the students returned home. The remaining six stayed on to take a closer look at local life, traveling to Taray, a small town that had been devastated by mudslides a year before.

It was an experience that left a deep impression on two students in particular. Rebecca Goldman and Elise Mazur, then sophomores, were inspired to establish a club upon their return home with a goal of helping the town recover from the mudslides. The girls’ focus has been Taray’s elementary school, which they helped rebuild during their visit. Having determined that computers are the school’s greatest need, they have launched a drive to collect used laptops to distribute to the school.

On Sunday, March 25, and Saturday, March 31, between 10 a.m. and noon, used but functioning laptops can be dropped off at the high school by the flagpole. As much memory as possible will be cleared from these computers before they are sent to the school in Peru. For those who have computers but can’t drop them off on the assigned dates, the volunteers will pick them up. Visit to make an arrangement for pickup.

Heavy rains in the Cusco region of Peru were responsible for the devastation in Taray in late February 2010. The six Princeton High students who traveled to the area stayed in the home of a local family who own the elementary school. With no flush toilets or other amenities taken for granted at home, the house was a far cry from the comforts of Princeton. But the students say they wouldn’t have had it any other way.

“It’s one thing to learn about past cultures, but to actually witness contemporary life is another,” says Rebecca. “They have very little. But they’re really happy.”

The students spoke Quechua, the native language of Peru, as well as Spanish, during their visit. “We really felt how they live,” says Elise. “They are very self-sustaining. You really learn to live and not be dependent on the phone, the computer, the television. It’s certainly not comfortable, but you learn to live that way. You’re able to survive. And the mountains are so beautiful.”

Ms. Hayden prepared her students for the trip throughout the previous year. She also runs a travel agency called Creating Ties. She has been taking her students to Peru for the past seven years.

“I came to the U.S. when I was 17 as an exchange student,” she says. “I invite my students to make the trip because my curriculum is all geared toward Peru. We study everything. Having them see what we’ve learned about makes it all come alive for them. The guides are always surprised at how much the kids know and understand.”

The students say Ms. Hayden’s familiarity with the country was a major asset. “She brought us to more places that tourists wouldn’t usually see,” says Elise. “We went to Lima, Machu Picchu, and the usual places. But we also visited people’s houses and met artists.”

The elementary school that was flattened by the mudslide has 35 students and has been relocated to a nearby town. “We helped put some of the finishing touches on the building,” says Rebecca. “They still need about $2,000 to build a classroom. Because it is intercultural — they teach about Spanish and Quecha — they don’t receive any government funding.”

By acquiring computers, the school will be better able to teach the sciences, math, and sustainability, the girls say. “We just really want to do what we can to help, and this is what they need,” says Rebecca.