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Tonawanda helps Guatemala with Yuda

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The eighth-grade Spanish class at St. Amelia School in Tonawanda has taken on an educational service project to help a fellow student in Guatemala. The students are selling unique handmade leather bracelets through their school and neighborhood. The money raised will go to pay for the high school education of Melvin, a teen facing severe poverty in South America.

It’s a rather simple act to make a big difference win someone’s life. The Yuda Bands sell for $10 a piece, with $5 going directly to Melvin for his education and school supplies, as well as participation in the LEAD program. Then $2.50 goes to the artisans who made the bracelets and covers tools and materials. Another $2.50 goes to the operation and humanitarian trip sponsorships. 

The sale of 150 bands will provide Melvin with one year of education, supplies, external support. The class has already close to 200, and has placed another order, which will go to next year’s tuition.

Shannon Andriatch, Spanish teacher found the non-profit organization online while research service projects for her class.

“I was really trying to find a nice project this year that would give back to the community, not just our local community, but maybe something a little further than that in trying to bring in a little culture and nice project for these kids this year,” she explained. Currently, St. Amelia’s is the only school in New York state involved in the project.

The Yuda Bands non-profit started 13 years ago when founders Brent and Laurie Whiting noticed young teens  working in the markets because there was no free education beyond sixth-grade in Guatemala. To further help end the cycle of poverty, they founded the LEAD program, which offers instruction on goal setting and public speaking skills so that the students can find a job once they graduate.

“They are given so many other opportunities for them to go out and find a career, so they can utilize the education they are getting,” said Andriatch.

Hundreds of students are available to be adopted by schools for the two-week sales venture. Each school will support one student, learn about his or her life, and even meet via video conferencing.

 The project has given Andriatch’s class a new understanding of third world culture.

“We’re learning that we can help people from everywhere, really,” said Sofia Gaglia.

“Most people have trouble earning a good amount of money to pay for food and what they need in everyday life,” explained student Jacob Heim. “By us doing this it gives him a chance at a better job to earn more money to get his everyday needs.” 

Melvin wants to be an auto mechanic or a forensic scientist, high ambitions for someone who now has to take a 45-minute bus ride and then walk several miles to attend school. Without an education, he would probably become a salesman at the local marketplace.

“We take going to school for granted. We say we HAVE to go to school. This is telling us that we GET to go to school,” said Holden Henderson.

The kids had planned to meet with Melvin over Zoom on Friday, but a local snowstorm canceled class that day.

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