Nichols School eighth-graders heard Monday during a live video conference how Haitian university students were faring in the aftermath of the devastating earthquake that upended the country nearly 2 1/2 months ago.
Haitian students shared the shock and fear that followed after the earthquake leveled homes and schools, leaving them with initial uncertainty about the well-being of loved ones. An estimated 230,000 people were killed.
"It was like 'OK, I'm going to die,' but after that I thought it was a challenge, and I'm a survivor," said Grace, who spoke from the Academie Nationale Diplomatique et Consulaire.
Students also spoke of resilience and determination to rebuild their country. "What we can hope today is to go back to school and try to do something right for our country," a young man identified as Vincent said.
Monday's event was part of Students Rebuild, an initiative by several organizations, including the educational Global Nomads Group, to connect students with peers in Haiti.
Four schools from across the United States were visually linked to Haiti, and two schools, including Nichols, were able to watch and have audio communication.
The event was part of a call to action for middle and high school students around the globe to help rebuild safer schools in Haiti by participating in a $500,000 matching grant challenge. Nichols is donating $2,500 to Students Rebuild, which will be matched by the Bezos Family Foundation, one of the partner organizations.
Nichols students and faculty also raised more than $5,000 for relief efforts, with most going to Hands on Disaster Response.
The middle-schoolers watched in the William G. Gisel Jr. Lecture Hall, which opened in January.
"What I like about this is that it's outside the news," said Sheila Zolara-Zamor, a middle school French teacher and a Haitian-American whose father experienced devastation in his city two hours from Port-au-Prince.
"I know what the news is covering in terms of images of people crying and [being] devastated, and here these kids are clean-cut and articulate individuals who are able to express what is going on."
"It was inspirational to see how positive these kids were, going through what they've gone through," Anthony DeRose said. "You try to put yourself in their shoes. It's a tough situation."
Schyler Gurney said, "It's really interesting to see how other people can cope with natural disasters like that. I was in an earthquake when I was 6, and it was really scary, but seeing an earthquake on that level must have been three times as scary."
A Global Nomad Group representative said about 4,000 schools were destroyed and more than 1 million students displaced.
"Everywhere I go [in Haiti] there is a [private] school around the corner, and there are morning sessions and evening sessions because they have that many kids to accommodate," Zolara-Zamor said, recalling past visits.
Despite the crushing poverty, she said, "people work so hard to send their kids to school."