By SUE SUCHYTA
DEARBORN – When Fordson High School’s Key Club members go to Costa Rica for spring break, they will bypass the tourist areas to provide schooling and agricultural assistance to the rural poor.
Sponsored by service-based Kiwanis International, Key Club is a character-building, student-led group that provides service opportunities for high school students while helping them develop their leadership skills.
Faculty advisor Zinab Zriek said she, teacher Miriam Mikulak and seven students will be in Costa Rica March 28 to April 2 serving through Rustic Pathways, a group that provides students with unique and safe travel experiences to help people and communities around the world.
In Costa Rica the service focus is on education, infrastructure and the environment. For more information, go to rusticpathways.com.
The $1,800 cost per participant has spurred multiple fundraising efforts. Key Club members also have made presentations to civic groups seeking financial donations.
To donate online, go to dm2.gofund.me/y5nn3b9w.
Zriek said Rustic Pathways approached the FHS Key Club two years ago with a way to let them expand their service work beyond their school and community.
Ali Fakih, 16, said the service trip is a big step for the group to take, and he hopes it will focus positive attention on the group, as well as encourage other students to pursue ambitious service projects that could positively impact people’s lives.
“Key Club does a great job helping the community,” Fakih said. “We work with other Key Clubs in the state as well. So going global is important because were are not just not making an impact on our community.”
Locally the group has packaged food at Gleaners Community Food Bank of Southeastern Michigan, visited with seniors during holidays, and made fleece comfort blankets for abuse victims. Internationally they helped the Palestinian National Relief Fund, providing funding for blankets and school supplies for orphans.
Mouhamad Diallo, 16, said doing hands-on volunteer work locally gives them a greater sense of purpose in the community, and pushes them out of their comfort zones.
Waleed Ahmed, 17, said he is very excited to be going on this trip.
“Four years ago when I joined this club, I expected to be part of bake sales and small events,” Waleed Ahmed said. “Now here I am, stepping up and going out of the country for the first time, so I am really excited for that.”
Mohamad Mansour, 16, said Key Club projects let him develop his leadership skills while helping others, and gives him a chance to meet and work with like-minded individuals.
“I can make a difference,” Mansour said. “I am a person who likes interacting with other people to do activities that are extraordinary.”
Safa Khalil, 17, said their Key Club’s service work helps dispel stereotypes about Fordson as well as Arab-Americans.
“I think the media showcase us in a horrible, horrible way,” Khalil said, “and I think us, the group from Fordson, Arab-Americans mostly, (that) go to Costa Rica will hopefully put our name in a positive way.
“Look what we are doing. We are nothing like they are saying. We are going out of our shoes, we are traveling out of (the) country, we are teenagers who are helping others.”
Mohamed Ahmed, 17, said the Key Club members are not just ambassadors on the service trip to Costa Rica – they are ambassadors every time they go out in the community as Key Club representatives.
“No matter what event we are presented with, we present ourselves in the best way possible,” Mohamed Ahmed said, “not only for our culture and religion, but to help out whoever is in need, whether it is in Dearborn or Costa Rica or somewhere else.”
Khalil said she hopes they get a chance to answer questions about their culture to alter perceptions and stereotypes.
“We do great things not just in our community, but we go out of the country to help others,” Khalil said. “Seeing these kids, seeing what they go through is extremely different.
“We have a good life here. We are very fortunate, and I think seeing others will really help us. I think we are going to learn more from them than they are going to learn from us.”
Zriek said that while in Costa Rica they will build a greenhouse capable of growing fruits and vegetables for local school children, and they will purchase the initial plants. They also will repair classrooms in three schools, build some desks, work on an existing well, and tutor school children in rudimentary English.
Mohamed Ahmed said because they are bilingual, they understand the challenges children face learning a second language.
“So us tutoring them we might be able to do better so than someone who knows one language,” he said. “So I do think we are able to connect with them more that way. We understand the frustration and the timing and the patience that it will take to teach them.”
Zriek said she is very proud of her Key Club students.
“They are firecrackers,” Zriek said. “There hasn’t been a time when I asked them, ‘Hey, do you guys want to take part in this?’ where they have told me ‘no.’
“They are go-getters. I take a step back and watch it all happen. It is awesome to see.”
Mansour said he is proud of what he and his peers are doing.
“We’re taking a stand,” Mansour said, “We’re stepping up and we’re becoming leaders in our community.”
Kiwanis Club of Dearborn Outer Drive advisor Rosa Scaramucci said the parent group is proud of the FHS Key Club and its many accomplishments throughout its more than 20-year history. She said it is the most awarded Key Club in Michigan.
“We fully support this event,” Scaramucci said. “We are going to be working with them as closely as we can to make this dream come true this year, but we do need community support.”
Diallo encourages the community to support the Key Club’s service trip.
“Through this we are going to make an international mark,” Diallo said, “and we are going to do something bigger than ourselves that will be really helpful.”
Groups and organizations interested in helping the Key Club fund its service trip to Costa Rica may contact Zriek at [email protected], or call Fordson High School at 313-827-1400.