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US Youths Help with Tsunami Relief Efforts

Wealthy countries that are part of what’s called ‘the Paris club’ of creditor nations agreed this week to suspend debt payments for the nations devastated by the Asian tsunami. Indonesia alone reportedly owes $48 billion in financial assistance.

Those big figures may be overwhelming for many people who want to help in a smaller, more personal way. VOA’s Craig Fitzpatrick has the story of a group of children in the Washington, DC area who are doing just that. Paul Miller narrates.

Americans are giving in record amounts to the tsunami victims in Southern Asia and that includes many of America's kids, from this 5-year-old, who asked his parents to return his Christmas gifts and give the money to the Red Cross, to these kid's selling hot chocolate at a street-side stand.

One youth selling hot chocolate says, "I never really thought people would come around and kind of be this generous. I mean, people who buy hot chocolate, we tell them what we're doing here, and man, they're so generous."

And these teenagers, Siam Fuentes and Jackie Curiel at Wakefield High School in Arlington, Virginia are helping relief efforts by selling paper leaves for one dollar each and putting them on a paper tree in the school cafeteria. This tree of hope, as they call it, has gotten positive reactions from the students. Siam says, "They seem to like the idea because since it's a tree, it's the symbol of life. I think they kind of like that idea."

Siam Fuentes was shocked when he first saw pictures of the tsunami devastation, and as President of the Asia Club at the school he felt he had to do something. Siam adds, "The pictures kind of got to me. I really didn't like hearing the news. I just wanted to know the tsunami happened. I didn't want to know how many had died and just horrendous pictures because, you know, in my mind I just had to do something."

Maggie Hsu is a teacher at the high school and one of the sponsors of the Asia Club's relief effort. She says the amount of money the students collect is not as important as the lessons learned.

"I really wanted the students to feel responsible. At the same time I want them to get a sense of how fortunate they are. They have everything here. They have the freedom to do whatever they want, yet at the same time a dollar can do so much for people who are in need," she said.

As Siam collects donations at a table, Jackie roams through the cafeteria asking for contributions. Some of the students write messages of hope on the paper leaves. She says, "It's just mostly prayers of good will, hoping that everything will get better soon."

The money collected will go to the tsunami victims via the American Red Cross International Relief Fund. But if Siam could deliver the money personally he would also give the victims a message, "I'd just tell them, keep hope alive, the whole world is with you."