PITTSFIELD – “Please get involved,” Yoojin Pi, 17, a Korean student begged this weekend. “Even a penny or just a dollar so the injured people in China won’t feel alone.”
A group of international students at Maine Central Institute have been struck hard – and personally – by the devastating earthquake centered near Chengdu in central China last month. Although none of the four teenagers lost family or friends, they have been shaken by the devastation and loss of life in their homeland.
Benny Huang, 17, who lives just outside Hong Kong, had a very close call. “My mother had been in the earthquake area on business,” he said. “She flew out to Germany the day before the earthquake struck.”
Until he found out his mother was safe, Huang spent a few panicked hours trying to get information on her well-being. There is a 12-hour time difference between Maine and China, and communication was difficult.
“I was so scared,” Huang said.
The earthquake has killed more than 60,000 people and injured another 350,000. The 7.9 magnitude temblor centered on central Sichuan province has also spurred flooding of lakes that were formed by landslide-clogged rivers.
More injuries were suffered in serious aftershocks.
The students have raised more than $800 from fellow students and staff at Maine Central Institute, which houses about 100 boarding students and is the local high school for SAD 53.
“It is such a tragedy,” said Allen Xu, 18, of Xiamen, a city on the coast of China across from Taiwan. “We were all very scared.”
Xu and Huang said they first learned of the earthquake on the Internet when they checked international news sites.
“It’s like the tsunami in Indonesia, or the hurricane in New Orleans,” Huang said. “People need help in such a huge tragedy of nature. This is the worst thing to happen in my country in my lifetime.”
The students decided to take their feelings of helplessness and turn them into activity. They have been collecting clothing at each dormitory and are asking the community for donations. Clothing can be left at any dormitory, they said, and cash donations can be sent to the Red Cross.
Both Huang and Xu said the next week and a half at school before they go home for summer vacation is going to be difficult.
“It is so much harder being here,” Huang said. “I wish I was in China right now.”