The Power of PANDA

For the past week and a half, students and faculty alike have collaborated to help raise money for two recent natural disasters: the earthquake that destroyed parts of China on May 12, and Cyclone Nargis, which hit Myanmar on May 6. Frankly put, I was very satisfied with and surprised at how quickly members of the PA community reached out and responded to these disasters so soon after they happened. I found out about the earthquake when I was reading the news on, the day after the disaster. My mind simply didn’t register all the deaths and destruction the earthquake caused; numbness took over as I scrolled through the online newspapers and photos. My mom had also called that night and told me that she couldn’t contact my grandparents, who lived about a half-hour away from the center-point of the earthquake; all the phone lines were dead. But what was I to do? I didn’t want to just sit there, watch the ruins and try to forget about it. I didn’t want to look into the sick faces of the wounded and try to dismiss them. In the privileged community of PA, I wanted to put my efforts in, because I cared, because we, as a community, have the power to help. Thankfully, other PA members felt similarly. It was amazing to see how all the students and teachers bonded in that short period of time. Some of them hadn’t even met before. In less than four days, I started receiving emails about donations and other efforts to raise money, and I signed up for everything that I could. I felt reassured that it wasn’t just me out there, but that there were also dozens more who were just as concerned and worried as I was. We called ourselves PANDA, Phillips Academy for Natural Disasters Aid. Strangers just a few days earlier, members of PANDA were now working side-by-side to do their best to help the crisis. I was astounded at the speed with which we implemented our plans. Even though I knew we wanted to act as fast as possible, sometimes it takes as long as two weeks to get settled on a plan, and by then, another wave of people would have died. Within three days, we had gotten everything together. Everybody was focused, efficient, caring and willing to do anything to help the victims of the natural disasters. Even though I have only been at PA for a year, I have noticed that it is sometimes hard to get people rallied up and motivated for a cause in as little as three days. People often have scheduling conflicts or just don’t have any interest in the cause, but this time we got together and got rolling. The term “non sibi” wasn’t just a term anymore, but rather something that was part of me as well. PA stresses non sibi to the breaking point, but it had only seemed like something that was just talked about, not acted upon. Sure, I had participated in the Spicket River Cleanup for Non Sibi Day 2007, but that was pretty much a disaster because of the horrible weather and the disorganization of the project. This was truly the first time I had given a great amount of my time and energy for a greater cause, for someone else who needed it more. It was also great to see so many other students, parents and faculty donate their money, whether at the International Food Festival and Dance or at the donation boxes in Uncommons. I’ve had experience helping with donations before, and usually people are reluctant to donate. Not in this case. Sometimes students even gave up tens and twenties for this cause. Of course, some looked at us strangely at first, and would say, “Earthquake?” But all of our posters and emails eventually sunk in. Raising awareness was definitely the harder part, but in the end, it all worked out. People started caring and helping, and made the difference for others. To me, this fundraising event was a huge success, and I hope we can keep it up! Shirley Guo is a Junior from Shenzhen, China and a member of Phillips Academy for Natural Disasters Aid.