After seeing the aftermath of the Haiti earthquake on television, St. Edmund Campion Secondary School student Mitchell Byrne, seen here with school Chaplain Patrick Marcolla, launched a school-wide clothing drive to benefit victims of the disaster. – Photo by Bryon Johnson
The earthquake that hit Haiti earlier this year shook the lives of thousands on the small Caribbean island moved a Brampton teenager to action.
Mitchell Byrne remembers watching television and the images capturing the aftermath of the earthquake that levelled Haiti on Jan. 12. Thousands were reported killed and injured. More than a million people were left homeless in the rubble that remained after the magnitude-7 quake.
“It was a terrible situation,” the St. Edmund Campion Secondary School student recalled. “Cities were wiped out. Homes were destroyed. People were out on the streets and I felt empathetic for the Haitians. I looked at the situation and basically felt helpless to do anything about it.”
But the 17-year-old soon realized there must be others wrestling with the exact same feelings. He resolved to rally other students at his school with the same concerns for the Haitian people.
“Together we could make a significant contribution to the relief efforts there,” he thought.
Byrne approached school Chaplain Patrick Marcolla, Principal Neville Mant and the student council with the idea of conducting a school-wide clothing drive to benefit the earthquake victims.
He dubbed the campaign the Each One Reach One clothing drive for Haiti.
“The basic idea behind it is to give each student the opportunity to reach one student in Haiti by making a donation,” the well-spoken teen explained.
He also made contact with the charitable organization Canadian Food For Children, which was participating in relief efforts by sending food and clothing to the devastated region. The organization agreed to assist the school campaign by shipping their donated clothing to Haiti.
The week long clothing drive received all the necessary school approvals and was held this past October. More than 1,116 pieces of clothing were donated by students.
“I felt phenomenal, I felt astonished that I was able to just take this idea and make such a difference,” the teen said afterwards. “I’m still a little bit amazed by what a little effort and dedication to a cause can do.”
Marcolla transported the clothes to a Mississauga warehouse operated by Canadian Food For Children, which shipped the donations to Haiti.
It’s been an eye-opening experience that has helped the Grade 12 student realize he or anyone willing to put forward the effort can make a positive difference for hundreds of people facing hardship. Knowing it is possible to achieve something of this magnitude has made him much more confident about the possibilities in all aspects life.
“That’s all you need basically, just will power and effort and basically you can move mountains,” he remarked.
Byrne is challenging other schools in the region and Greater Toronto Area to match or surpass the efforts accomplished by his school.
Mant noted the school and school board are always trying to instill the virtue of charity and positive contribution to community in their students. A student led and focussed campaign like this helps to bolster that message, he suggested.
It’s a testament to the influence teenagers can have as individuals and as a group, Marcolla added.
“He proved to the kids things can get done,” he said.