Taylor Zevanove, a 17-year-old senior at Foothill High School, is raising money to help orphans in Thailand after being introduced to them and their plight by her uncle, Bart Broadman.
Zevanove has organized a dance fest and global outreach event to earn her Gold Star, the highest achievement in Girl Scouting. Her event is set for 1:30 to 5:30 p.m. tomorrow at Foothill High.
There, participants will hear speakers talking about global social responsibility for their minds, get a chance to take dance classes for their bodies, and boost their spirits by helping kids less fortunate than themselves.
The idea for a fundraiser began in July 2011, when Zevanove began her Gold Star project. She said her uncle was one of the founders of the orphanage.
"The School of Hope, the orphanage, is in a small rural town called Nong Ook, about 10 miles from the Burmese border and part of the Chiang Mai province," Zevanove said. "Nong Ook is about 140 miles from the city of Chiang Mai, which is a major city in Thailand."
She said she was amazed by her trip there over the summer.
"Obviously I had my expectations of what it was going to be like," she said. "I was blown away by how sweet and resilient the kids were."
About 60 orphans, ranging in age from 5 to 17, live at the School of Hope. They're among the thousands of Shan and other minorities who fled Burma because of civil war, forced labor and poverty.
The children, abandoned or left orphaned by the death of their parents -- often through working dangerous, underpaid jobs -- are at risk of being exploited themselves, in Thailand's notorious sex industry or through human trafficking.
On her visit, Zevanove was able to see the struggles of the orphanage first hand. She said getting there was an adventure in itself.
"We flew from San Francisco to Singapore. From Singapore we flew through Bangkok to Chiang Mai. That part of our trip took up a good part of the day -- we left at around 7 a.m. and arrived at our stop in Chiang Mai at around 2 p.m.," Zevanove said. "We had a driver who picked us up at the airport and stayed with us during the entire trip. From Chiang Mai, we drove to Rim Doi, which was about 90 miles away. This is where we stayed at night. We would drive to the School of Hope, which was about 50 miles from Rim Doi."
Zevanove travelled with Broadman, her mother and brother.
"We were in Thailand for four days, which included travel and time at the school. When we were at the school we were there from early morning and into the evening. I am friends on Facebook with several people at the school and we have kept in touch since then," she said.
Although the school lacks basic necessities, she said, "Ironically, they do have a computer, and Thailand has excellent wireless coverage so email and Facebook are fantastic ways to communicate."
On her way home, Zevanove wondered what she could do to help.
"I noticed a need for sanitation and for a youth health center," she said. "Unfortunately, I don't think my sponsorships will reach that goal. I'm going to have to reassess to make sure the money is used as efficiently as possible. We have sponsors for the dance fest -- people have been super generous. We're still collecting donations and at the end of the day that will all go to my project."
The speakers will include two from international charities focused on helping children worldwide. Hallie Pond of Free the Children will speak on "Youth and Global Responsibility" and Marrisa Vessels of Impact Alliance will talk about "Youth and Being a Leader in Your School. In addition, Rev. Steve Wilde, pastor at the Livermore First Presbyterian Church, will speak on "Giving Back Locally." Nonprofit organizations will have booths so young people can find out more about their organizations and volunteering.
Zevanove said there will be both dance classes and dance performances, too.
"We will be offering U-Jam and Zumba," she said. "I wanted fun, easy styles that anyone could do and not worry about having experience or skills. Two instructors, Lisa Marie Pena and Laura Higgins, have donated their time, and a Zumba instructor from Zumba Fitness, Raquel Call, is donating her time."
Call will also donate time to teach an adult Zumba class after the youth event. That will cost $10, and all the money will come back to Zevanove's project.
Also during the event will be performances from Xiaopei Chinese Dance, Kalaikoil Dance and Arts of India and Bhangra of Foothill, along with Irish dance and Hawaiian dance demonstrations.
More information about Zavanove's event is at a web page set up to promote it, dancefest.eventbrite.com. Donations are tax deductible through Girls Scouts of Northern California, a nonprofit organization.