Harrison Gilman, Eliana Schiffer, and Sophia Phillips are three very impressive middle schoolers. Their maturity and confidence disguise their ages to such an extent that one might easily mistake them for high school students. They credit all of this to their teachers-one John Seigel-Boettner in particular. Seigel-Boettner was in charge of Harrison, Eliana and Sophia when the three took part in the Santa Barbara International Film Festival in association with the Santa Barbara Middle School Teen Press and also introduced the kids to Project Rwanda’s Ride 4 Rwanda. The concept of this project was initiated by the movies the middle schoolers watch every Tuesday, each of which focuses on an issue of global importance. Sophia, a seventh-grader, said she felt that the movies “enable us to understand something which is greater than ourselves: When you think about others, it’s rewarding for them as much as it is for us; you get to appreciate what you have.”
So it was with this sentiment – along with Seigel-Boettner’s contacts in Rwanda, where he goes once a year – that the SBMS Teen Press became an active sponsor for Project Rwanda. With its second annual Ride 4 Rwanda, the students and volunteering community members met on February 8 at the Goleta Beach and raised money by riding bikes and racking up cash that sponsors had pledged. Last year, the money raised by bikers who had went towards supplying “coffee bikes” for Rwandan coffee pickers. This year, Ride 4 Rwanda’s 140-some riders raised $5,000 to supply tools to help maintain and fix the bikes. The bikes help the coffee pickers transport over 300 pounds of coffee, allowing them to make better incomes and improve their circumstances. The bikes also serve as transportation for their families with the addition of a small trailer like attachment on the back of each bike. The Rwandans, after receiving their bicycles have four years to pay off a portion of the bike costs. “This,” explained Eliana, also a seventh grader, “makes them value it more. They are more likely to take care of something which was not given to them, but that they had to work for.”
According to the kids who helped make this year’s Ride 4 Rwanda happen, they have no problem using their “kid” appearances to their advantage. “We work for our viewers and sometimes use our age to our advantage,” said sixth-grader Harrison with a mischievous grin. “We want to get the word out about issues which we are concerned with [such as Project Rwanda].” The three certainly seemed to succeed in this on Saturday, February 2, on the night when actress Angelina Jolie was presented with the Santa Barbara International Film Festival’s Outstanding Performance Award. There, Teen Press representatives Harrison and Eliana were able to speak with Jolie longer than any other interviewers on the red carpet. The two were also the only interviewers to speak with Jolie’s husband, actor Brad Pitt. Both stars were given Project Rwanda jerseys, a gift that reportedly left Pitt especially stoked.
It seems as if the Santa Barbara Middle School Teen Press has most of the process worked out. They support issues they feel strongly about, and work to publicize topics they support and benefit causes they know will help people and countries in need. “‘Because of them, us; because of us, them.’ It’s one of SBMS’s many mottos,” said Sophia. That particular motto seems to have rung true at least for these middle school students, who have taken the average community service work to a whole new level, contributing not only their time, but also their interest and constant attention, “Africa is always on my mind,” said Harrison. And as Eliana said, “We want to learn and to help, because we are the generation who can make the difference.”