JACKSON TWP — One Seneca Valley junior is taking her love for helping others across oceans.
Hiruni Herat has been working since eighth grade to donate school supplies to a small, rural school near Pugoda, Sri Lanka. The school is near and dear to her heart as her grandparents are from the village, Pugoda.
It started with collecting backpacks and school supplies. Now Herat is trying to raise $4,000 to build the school its first science laboratory.
“Going to a school as good as Seneca Valley and seeing how lucky I am to have this education and having students all over the world like that that don't have the opportunities I have, that motivates me to keep helping those kids,” Herat said.
Palpita School serves about 150 children in grades one to 10 and is one of the poorest in the area, Herat said. For her eighth grade independent study Purpose project, she started a letter exchange with students from Seneca Valley and students in the Palpita School.
Students from Seneca Valley wrote about their daily lives, then students from Palpita would write back and they could compare responses.
Her eighth grade science teacher, Julie Smith, said Herat told her about how her family often visited Sri Lanka. The pair discussed how great it would be to include her fellow students in her project by reaching out to others who were not as fortunate.
Through their discussions, the idea came not only to write letters to the Sri Lankan students, but also for Seneca Valley students to collect donated backpacks and school supplies to send them to the overseas school.
“It was then clear to me that at this point in her life, Hiruni had a vision to reach out to others and would surely be a success,” Smith said.
Herat delivered the backpacks in the summer of 2014.
“I ended up really connecting with those students,” she said. “We played volleyball and soccer for a while. It was a really great experience.”
The experience was so positive that Herat wanted to do more for the school; she asked the principal if they needed anything else. The principal said the school had just gotten electricity so they could use a printer/photocopier, she said.
So she spent her freshman year fundraising and getting donations for the $1,000 to purchase and deliver the photocopier. She delivered it this past summer, and while she was there the principal of the school asked Herat to plan a one-day summer camp for the students.
Herat said she planned a camp that had three parts — leadership, motivation and English-language learning. After she delivered the photocopier, she rotated through the grades giving presentations and doing activities with the children. Herat is proficient in Sinhala, the language spoken in that region, but had her parents on hand to translate or clarify things if necessary.
The day ended with a bonfire and a performance by the school's dance groups.
“It impacted me and the students both,” she said. “What struck me was how grateful and happy they are with what they have.
Her new goal is to raise enough money to renovate one of Palpita's classrooms into a science lab. She has been collecting donations online through a YouCaring crowdfunding website.
She is also in the process of starting a nonprofit to continue her work at Palpita and branch out to help other schools like it.
Herat presented her project to the Seneca Valley School Board at its first October meeting and received overwhelmingly positive feedback from the visibly stirred school directors.
“I love the fact that you're investing in young people, and the fact that you're getting to your roots and the fact that your parents are here tonight,” said the Rev. Reid Moon, school director. “I love that you've been at this since your eighth grade year. I love that you're a big thinker and that you've got plans that go beyond Sri Lanka.”
For Herat helping students in Sri Lanka and finding ways to reach other impoverished schools is just the norm now. She said the project has taken over her life.
“It's basically all I want to do in my high school career outside of school,” she said. “And with my nonprofit, I don't want to keep it in Sri Lanka. I want to expand it as big as I can.”
To help Herat's project, visit www.youcaring.com/palpitaschool-967340.