BRMS students raise $3,000 for MAG America

Mark Brejcha and members of his sixth-grade class show mountain bike athlete and creator of the documentary “Blood Road” Rebecca Rusch a $3,000 check for MAG America to remove unexploded bombs and landmines from Laos during a Skype call Tuesday morning. The students began raising the money after learning about the history of the Vietnam War and the vast number of unexploded bombs left behind in the region of Laos which still pose a threat to people in the area. (Pioneer photos/Taylor Fussman)

BIG RAPIDS — Making a difference in the world can sometimes feel like a feat too large for one person to accomplish, but members of the Big Rapids Middle School sixth-grade class are learning they can have an impact, too.

For the past month, students in Mark Brejcha’s sixth-grade class have been learning about the history of the Vietnam War — in particular, the vast number of unexploded ordnance (UXO) left behind in Laos, a landlocked nation in southeast Asia, after the war.

UXO are explosive weapons, such as bombs and landmines, which did not explode after being installed and still pose a risk of detonation to the people living in the region.

After weeks of hard work learning about the conflict, the region’s culture, international relations since the war and the danger families living in Laos still face, the students came together to raise $3,000 for MAG America, a nonprofit organization committed to removing UXO from countries after a conflict has ended.

Brejcha said the entire $3,000 raised by students will be dedicated to removing landmines and unexploded bombs in Laos.

He added this money will make a significant difference in the lives of the people living in this region.

“Sometimes kids don’t feel like they can change the world, but this project proved to them they can,” Brejcha said.

He explained this capstone project was inspired by the journey of mountain bike athlete Rebecca Rusch, who traveled along the Ho Chi Minh Trail in an effort to reach the crash site and final resting place of her father, a U.S. Air Force pilot who was shot down over Laos roughly 40 years earlier.

Big Rapids Middle School sixth-grade students waive to Rebecca Rusch during a Skype call Tuesday morning.

After watching Rusch’s documentary of the experience, “Blood Road,” and learning about her commitment to help MAG America remove all the remaining UXO in Laos, Brejcha said he knew it was the perfect project for his class.

The students’ hard work culminated Tuesday morning, when they had the opportunity to participate in a Skype call with Rusch.

During the conversation, students asked Rusch about how the Ho Chi Minh Trail changed her life, what it felt like to see the bomb craters and if the money they raised would really have an impact.

Rusch explained just $5 allows MAG America to clear a 12.5-meter area of UXO, so their contribution is huge for the people of Laos.

Sixth-grader Jamis Cline asks Rebecca Rusch about traveling the Ho Chi Minh Trail and what it was like to be in Laos while she filmed her documentary.

“It’s really amazing what you’re doing and I have to say thank you from the bottom of my heart,” she said during the Skype call.

In addition to learning they have the ability to create change, several students said they realized the importance of forgiveness after a war.

“I feel like we learned a lot about Vietnam and the project taught us to always forgive,” sixth-grader Jamis Cline said. “It was cool because it’s about saving peoples’ lives, and kids won’t have to be scared to walk outside.”

BRMS Principal Mitch Cumings said the project as a whole was an invaluable learning experience for the students involved.

“All learning should be experiential,” he said. “This particular activity has really illuminated that the world is a big place, but also a small place and they can make a difference.”

BRMS sixth-grade students lined the hallways of the school with posters about what they learned as part of a project about the Vietnam War, including the culture in the region of Laos, international relations with the area since the war and the danger families living in Laos still face due to unexploded bombs in the region.

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Posted by Taylor Fussman

Taylor is the cops and courts reporter for the Pioneer and Herald Review newspapers. She can be reached at (231) 592-8362 or by email at tfussman@pioneergroup.com.

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