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Miles Mac students band together

Filipino students organizing relief for hard-hit nation

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If he hadn’t moved to Winnipeg last September, Lee Calotes believes he would be dead.

The Miles Macdonell Collegiate Grade 11 student, who lived in the Philippines up until last year, said his family’s home in Bohol was badly damaged in an earthquake in October. The area was threatened initially by Typhoon Haiyan on Nov. 8, though Tacloban ended up bearing the brunt of it.

"I didn’t know what to do — I just hope and pray," said the 17-year-old Calotes, who has his grandfather and cousins living in the affected areas.

Pointing to a photo on his cell phone of his old bedroom, which was destroyed in the earthquake, Calotes said: "If we were in there in that time, we (would probably be) dead."

Understanding what the country has gone through in recent weeks, Calotes is one of about 35 students of Filipino descent in the school volunteering to help out. The students manned a desk near the office from Nov. 19 to 22 collecting cash and toiletries to send to the Philippines, and also planned a buffet meal for the school’s staff on Nov. 28 — the day of parent-teacher interviews.

With 1,300 students at the school, organizers hope everybody donates a toonie to help raise $2,500 for relief efforts. Students plan to work with the Philippine-Canadian Centre of Manitoba to determine how best to get the money and supplies to those in need.

"We’re trying to find the best way to donate so 100% of the money goes to the people of the Philippines," said Albien Onio, the school’s security person and campaign organizer.

Organizing teacher Rhonda Beebe said tickets to the dinner are being sold to staff for $10, with students’ families providing food — ranging from traditional noodle dishes to spring rolls to desserts — for free.

"People don’t have time to go home between when the bell rings at 3:15 (p.m.), and then interviews start at 5," said Beebe. "Normally, they just order in fast food, so we came up with this idea of putting on a dinner. The kids really wanted to do something with food."

Two other students feel that they will be able to make a difference.

"I saw the wreckage, and I just felt sad. I thought ‘we need to do something,’" Grade 11 student Diana Pagsuyuin, 15, said.

"I was shocked because it was such a big part of the Philippines that was affected," said Grade 12 student Rimmo Villanueva, 17, adding he first saw the footage on Filipino-language television. "When I watched them this morning, I saw their faces and see the relief — they have hope from all the donations they get."

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