Midland School junior Kevin Jung had been looking for an organization to benefit after raising $2,000 during the past year.

When a 7.0 earthquake devastated Haiti’s capital in January, flattening homes, schools and even U.N. headquarters, the young philanthropist knew where that money should go. Last week, Jung, 17, donated the earnings to Direct Relief International at its headquarters in Santa Barbara toward the organization’s efforts to provide relief to the devastated country. Jung, of Los Olivos, had just recently begun a fundraising project when the earthquake in Haiti happened. He said donating money was an important way to help Haiti recover and rebuild.

He raised $1,000 alone after returning to school from the holiday break. Last year, he collected the same amount, the majority from the class of 2009. His plan was to raise money first and then decide where to donate. Stark images from Haiti on news reports– bodies piled in the streets and people crying for lost family members – solidified his decision and helped put things in perspective.

“I imagined people’s fear in Haiti when the earth was shaking and buildings were collapsing in front of them,” Jung said. “They had nowhere to hide. I thought maybe when they were dying in that disaster, we (students) were here whining about why there are so many people on the computers in the library and worrying about updating our Facebook statuses, without even knowing what had happened in Haiti.”

Although Jung devotes a large chunk of his spare time to fundraising for people abroad, he wasn’t always that way. Until fairly recently, he had not been one to keep abreast of what was going on abroad. But a year ago, he was shaken out of complacency during his World Studies class when he learned about the genocide in Darfur. “I realized how horrible the situation was among the innocent people, especially women,” he said. “They don’t harm anyone, but why were they harmed by armed people?” The class encouraged students to focus on current events instead of merely “memorizing history from various textbooks,” he said.

At the urging of his teachers, Jung joined monthly ‘Save Darfur’ meetings, where people discussed the tragedy in Darfur and listened to Darfurian refugee’s voices. “Darfurian refugees are people just like us, and I felt a strong connection from stories of teenagers like me,” he explained. “We are the same people, we deserve the same happiness.” Compelled to raise money and awareness for the women in Darfur, Jung and fellow student, Silviano Valdez, bought sodas in bulk and began selling them to students as well as taking small donations from students.

By the end of this year, Jung hopes to donate another $2,000 and heighten awareness about the plight of victims in Haiti. “I would love it if this student-based fundraising becomes a tradition of Midland,” he said. “While working on the second round of fundraising for Haiti, I will also work on finding younger students at Midland who can sustain the fundraising campaigns.” Jung’s activism has not only instilled in him a firm sense of helping others, but also a belief that anyone can make a difference.

“The most important thing of activism is one’s awareness and willingness to take action,” he noted. “The amount of money people raise, and how famous they are, is not important. “Activism means that I care about my friends, I am a loving human being, and I’m trying to make the world better in one small way for other individuals,” he added.

The school’s headmaster, Will Graham, said he’s extremely proud of Jung and hopes that other students will follow his lead. “Kevin is leading other students to understand that they also have a responsibility to help others,” said Graham. “The effort of one student to contribute encourages all students in the community to consider where they stand in the world.”

jfoster@syvjournal.com