By Nate Gartrell Contra Costa Times
Posted: 01/16/2015 11:14:32 AM PST
Updated: 01/16/2015 03:52:09 PM PST
ANTIOCH — For many teenagers living in the Bay Area, a 16th birthday party could mean receiving a new car or a laptop computer, or at least being showered with gifts cards from friends and family. But Nubia Wilson of Antioch saw her Sweet 16 as an opportunity to help struggling children on the other side of the globe.
In lieu of birthday gifts, the 16-year-old sophomore at the all-girl Carondelet High School in Concord asked family and friends for donations and raised $2,000 for The Fregenet Foundation, an Ethiopian-based charity that runs a school for orphaned or impoverished schoolchildren there.
“I realized that I could give up my birthday and it wouldn’t matter, because I still have the world compared to them,” said Wilson, who has been regularly traveling to Ethiopia to do volunteer work since the fifth grade. “So I decided I wanted to do something different this year, and start raising money.”
But Wilson is far from finished. She is selling Hershey’s bars and is organizing a dinner and auction, with the hopes of meeting a goal of $10,000 to go toward the construction of a fifth grade at the Fregenet School. The school currently has about 300 students–most of whom are orphans — and goes from kindergarten through fourth grade, but doesn’t have the funds to educate children beyond that.
“For many of the kids, the Fregenet School is the only reason why they’re able to get two meals a day,” Wilson said.
Nubia’s mother, Tigi Wilson, is an Ethiopian refugee who was one of hundreds of thousands of people to flee the country during the late 1980s, following two decades of civil war, and a multiyear famine that officially ended in 1985. After ending up in Greece and eventually coming to the U.S. and starting a family, Tigi Wilson began taking her family to regular trips to Ethiopia, to show her children where she came from,
Nubia Wilson said the trips opened her eyes to the hardships faced by folks in other parts of the globe, and also gave her the opportunity to witness remarkable acts of human kindness. One time, a young boy who was suffering from starvation broke off a piece of a crust of bread he was eating, and offered it to Wilson.
“The boy’s love and kindness showed how people who have absolutely nothing could be the richest in their minds and souls,” Wilson wrote in an eighth-grade essay about her experience.
Wilson also made friends with a young girl named Hermela, who attends the Fregenet School and inspired the name of Wilson’s charity drive, “Keep Hermela Smiling.” Hermela lost one parent, and has another who is afflicted with illness, and Wilson said the young girl’s struggles are typical of the youth she’s trying to help.
“It’s really bad; you see people on the street begging, and little kids begging for food or money,” Wilson said. “There are kids that don’t have anything, basically.”
So far, Nubia’s chocolate bar sales have netted her an additional $100 toward her goal, but she’s planning to step up fundraising efforts with an Ethiopian dinner and auction next month. Her family owns several Ethiopian artifacts that they plan to auction off, including a 17th-century Bible, inscribed and painted by hand on cowhide parchment, with ink and paints made from vegetation several hundred years ago.
Wilson has also started a Crowd Rise page, at www.crowdrise.com/futureforhermela/fundraiser/nubiawilson to assist her fundraising efforts. When she’s not raising funds for charity, she focused on maintaining her status as an honor student and playing basketball at Carondelet, and she hopes to one day attend UCLA or Stanford, with the ultimate goal of one day becoming a lawyer.
“I’m just happy to have a house and a bed and a place to sleep, knowing there are so many kids who don’t have anything,” Wilson said.
Contact Nate Gartrell at 925-779-7174 or follow him on Twitter at Twitter.com/NateGartrell
TO HELP WHAT: Nubia Wilson’s fundraising to help an Ethiopian school
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