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A wave of compassion: Dana Eisenberg

 

With hurricanes Katrina and Rita filling the news, they bring the tragedy of last year's tsunami in Southeast Asia all that much closer to home.

 

A quarter of a million people died in the tsunami. Millions more remain homeless. The trauma still haunts children. That's why Dana Eisenberg, a counselor at Lone Rock School in Stevensville, decided to go to Sri Lanka, one of the hardest hit areas, to help. Here is her story:

 

What I do and why it matters: I'm a school counselor. Kids can't learn unless their hearts and minds are in the right place. Among other responsibilities, I help kids get to a place where they are ready to learn.

 

What I did after the tsunami: The kids at our school wanted to do something. I took the lead in organizing a fair. With lots of help from kids, parents, and teachers, we raised $2,000 in a few hours. We donated it to a little group that was doing work in Sri Lanka.

 

I wanted to go to Sri Lanka and help, but when airline prices went up, I decided I couldn't go. When I told the kids it was too expensive, a teacher overheard me and said, "How much is it? I'll help you go!"

 

Before I knew it, she had asked everyone at school. She started going to banks and local businesses. The union (Lone Rock Education Association) forked up $500-our tiny little local of 22 members! In total, the community raised another $1,700.

 

I left in June. I was there for six weeks. I worked with a very small group, a disaster relief effort started by a firefighter from Spokane.

 

Komari is a Tamil village-the minority group in Sri Lanka. For 20 years, the Tamil people were caught in the middle of a terrible war. This village had never had running water or electricity or telephones.

 

There's a truce there now, and then this wave came and washed away the relatively peaceful lives they had been enjoying.

 

I mostly worked in the school. I was able to do some counseling with an interpreter. This village school is so impoverished. The teachers were working in horrible conditions. The kids were being taught in temporary shelters.

 

I sat down with teachers and asked them what they needed. They were so grateful to have someone to talk to.

 

I implemented an attendance incentive program for children to get them to come every day. I spent some time in the refugee camp doing art therapy programming with women and children.

 

The best part of my experience: Finally feeling like I did make a difference. Our mere humanity and our presence made a difference. I'll probably head to New Orleans for a few weeks of service with the Red Cross there. They need mental health providers.

 

Why I belong to MEA-MFT: I want to be part of the group that works hard to get a good contract. It's a very good contract and people are really proud of it. My school is very committed to the union-I think we have 100 percent membership. Union life is just part of life at our school.

 

Thank you, Dana, for doing work that matters in Montana and beyond!

 

Read about other Amazing MEA-MFT members.