Book stirs teens to fundraise for health

Rock Bridge students want to fight disease in poor countries.
Sunday, January 7, 2007 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 9:18 a.m. CDT, Thursday, July 10, 2008

For some people, a class is just a class, a book is just a book. But for Rock Bridge High School students in the contemporary issues class, a class and a book have inspired several events held throughout Columbia to raise money for a public health charity.

As a final project, teacher Matt Cone assigned the class to read the Pulitzer Prize-winning book “Mountains Beyond Mountains” by Tracy Kidder, which tells the life story of Paul Farmer, a Harvard professor who specializes in diagnosing and curing infectious diseases and has revolutionized public health.

Farmer has worked on public health projects for the poor in countries such as Haiti, Russia, Rwanda and Peru. His accomplishments have motivated the class to promote awareness of health care issues.

Four of the Rock Bridge students, juniors Graham Cheavens, 16, Lauren Seabaugh, 18, Hannah Welch, 17, and Julia Godfrey, 17, held a dinner and drop-in at the home of MU professor Sharon Welch on East Parkway on Saturday to raise awareness and money for Farmer’s organization, Partners in Health.

Guests watched a video about the charity and then listened to a presentation by the four students about Partners in Health, and some wrote checks. The four students were so excited about their subject, they had trouble taking turns during the presentation.

“All of the people who are dying don’t need to be dying,” Hannah Welch told the gathering of about 20.

The students spent long hours preparing for Saturday’s event and others, including an earlier bake sale at Rock Bridge.

“We spent 12 hours baking food on a Saturday,” Godfrey, 17, said.

The class also sponsored Death by Chocolate, raffling off sweets donated by the Candy Factory.

“They’re extremely passionate,” said Cone, who teaches the class. “Whatever my expectations, they go beyond them.”

Cone stressed that the students were not being graded for the amount of money they raised but for the amount of effort they put into the project.

“It’s really important that you feel you can do something about” human suffering, Cone said, talking about what the students learn from the projects.

The last of the projects planned to raise money for the organization took place Saturday night at Rock Bridge High School: a concert by two bands made up of Rock Bridge students. The students raised $1,096.

But the students were most excited about a phone call they’re expecting at 1:30 p.m. Thursday. It will come from Rwanda, and the voice on the other end of the speakerphone will be Farmer’s.

“I want to know what makes him keep going,” Godfrey said.

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