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The Diamondback

The University of Maryland Independent Student Newspaper


Students help raise money for El Salvador


Salome Equizabal


Seeing the saddened faces and blank stares of a group of Salvadoran children, freshman biology major Maryann Girgis understood their despair all too well.

When she asked them what they wanted do once they graduated from high school, they all remained quiet and stared at her.

"It was painful to see their faces because as young as they are, they know their future is very limited," Girgis said, recalling a day last spring when she, along with a group of other students from the Notre Dame Prep school, met with a group of underprivileged Salvadoran students entering high school.

On Wednesday night, Girgis stood at the main entrance of the Stamp Student Union Colony Ballroom as people trickled in to listen to bands play while a projector screen behind the stage flashed several pictures of smiling children. Girgis, along with other Notre Dame graduates, organized the College Park Benefit Concert to fundraise for Salvadoran youths and help them pay for college.

This concert, sponsored by Amnesty International and the Latino Student Union, was the second concert Girgis helped organize to benefit Salvadoran students. Last summer, Girgis helped organize another concert and raised $4,400. This money allowed two village students enroll at a university.

Because of the lingering effects of a 12-year civil war and ongoing political and economical unrest, many families in El Salvador, a country smaller than the state of Maryland, lack the necessary means to send their children to high school, making it even more challenging to send them to college.

Girgis' passion for this cause arose last spring when she spent a week in a small village in El Salvador on an annual trip sponsored by Notre Dame, an all-girls Catholic school in Towson. She went with several schoolmates and teachers to give a $5,000 donation to the impoverished village of Ignacio EllaCuria, located in the northern part of the country, so that several of the village children could attend high school.

This area in El Salvador was one of the hardest hit during the civil war that ended in 1992 and left more than 75,000 people dead and thousands of children orphaned, homeless and poor.

"Compared to what we have, the people in that village have nothing," said sophomore biological resources engineering major Sarah Ness, who went on the trip two years ago. "It's not an idealistic town, but it's peaceful and everyone there is a hard worker. They try to get as far ahead in life as is humanly possible."

The trip was a life-changing experience for Girgis. "I realized how privileged I am to have the opportunity to go to college. Hundreds of thousands of people want that, but it's economically out of their reach," Girgis said.

Throughout her stay, Girgis could not forget the children's blank expressions and she became determined to find a way to help them.

It was on the flight back to the United States that Girgis and her delegates came up with the idea to have a concert to raise funds and set up a scholarship to help them go to college.

"For the past 10 years, they have relied on us for scholarship aid, so that those who graduate from the elementary school can go on to high school," said Lucy Strausbaugh, a Notre Dame religion teacher and mentor who has traveled with student delegations. "Now we are helping some of those graduates to go to university in San Salvador to learn to be doctors and engineers, who will then return to and help the community."

Materialistically, the families in this village don't have much. Their main water source is a community well, electricity is limited and the closest computer they have access to is 45 minutes away. Still, the student delegates say the village is rich with happiness, a sense of community love and hope.

"The village is so full of love, everybody cares about everyone else and they are always willing to share every little bit that they have," Ness said.


Salome Equizabal at