Humanitarian in training

Intern: Russian-born high school student takes reins of Kenyan relief project.

April 11, 2001|By Laura Dreibelbis | Laura Dreibelbis,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Hammond High School senior Anya Makarova demonstrates insight and maturity well beyond her 17 years. The Russian-born student traveled to the United States from Moscow 2 1/2 years ago, bringing a deep, lifelong commitment to help those less fortunate.

"In Russia, there is a lot of poverty, a lot of poor people," said the soft-spoken teen-ager with an easy laugh and a smile that lights up her face.

"Putting money into needy hands will not solve the problem of poverty," she added. "It is a very complex and multidimensional problem."

Acting on her commitment, Anya applied to the Gifted and Talented Mentor Program, which provides internships for Howard County high school students interested in gaining firsthand experience in a career. Anya requested a position in a humanitarian organization and was placed with the Central Maryland chapter of the American Red Cross.

She was put to work assisting with "Maryland to Kenya: School Chest Initiative," a Red Cross effort in partnership with the State Department of Education - collecting and providing school supplies to disadvantaged children in Kenya schools who suffer from the aftermath of a major drought.

Gifted-education specialist Debby Messer noted Anya's strong moral compass and her desire to serve. "I was very impressed with her integrity and commitment to humanitarianism," said Messer, adding that Anya, since her arrival from Russia, has seen an abundance of possessions in the United States that most of her American peers take for granted.

Anya went above and beyond what an intern typically does, taking on the project herself and making things happen, Red Cross supervisor Bill Clarke said. Since beginning the internship in the fall, she helped design the information packet sent to schools about the project, which included facts on Kenya and guiding questions to promote learning and discussion of the African country.

This was especially challenging because Anya's textbook knowledge of English learned in Moscow was quite different from spoken American English. Studying subjects in other languages is difficult, she said.

Overcoming her fear of public speaking, Anya made a video and has made presentations to school officials and students at the state, county and individual level, promoting the school chest initiative and international service. She now speaks impromptu without notes. Howard County middle schools included "Maryland to Kenya" as a service-learning project.

Clarke remembered a comment Anya made during a presentation: In a country that has been devastated, an initial step to healing is establishing schools. She's passionate and adamant about the project, he said.

About 170 chests - 50-gallon storage tubs filled with school supplies costing about $315 each - have been received by the Red Cross statewide, with more trickling in since last month's deadline. Howard County is one of the state's top contributors, filling more than 30 chests - six of which are from Hammond High in Columbia.

Anya will attend a Red Cross convention next month to help Clarke discuss the school chest and other international projects. She will present her work at the Howard County Public Schools Student Learning Conference on May 4, and plans to write an assessment of the project. She wants to create a brochure detailing lessons learned from the Kenya experience to encourage schools to participate in similar projects.

The internship showed her how this type of effort works, said Anya, adding that she has learned the value of exchanging ideas and how a group effort can result in a better product.

"I think this was a great experience for me. I got a vision of what I want to do when I grow up," she said.

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