When most children celebrate birthdays, they and their families tend to mark the occasion with presents and loved ones, and possibly a party. This is even more true with the birthday is a milestone, like turning 13 and crossing the threshold into the teenage years.
But one Laurel girl didn't want a party, or presents. She wants to build a school in Haiti.
Utopia Diabe, 13, is a seventh-grader at St. Mary of the Mills Catholic School in Laurel. And her mother said all she wants for her recent birthday is for people to help her build a new school in Camp Perrin, to replace one destroyed by the 2010 earthquake.
"We were planning a small party, and she said, 'Mom, a party is a one-time thing,' " said Joanna Diabe. "I mean, turning 13 is a one-time thing, too, but instead of celebrating the milestone, she wanted to take whatever money would go toward a party and put it toward a good cause, something that would have a last effect."
Utopia and her mother have been going on service trips around the globe for years, Diabe said — everywhere from Haiti to Diabe's native Liberia.
Diabe said she hoped one day Utopia would be a service-minded, globally aware adult. She just didn't expect it to come at age 13.
"I didn't foresee it to come this early," she said. "I want her to be her own person, and I'm so proud, so happy that these trips aren't in vain. She's listening, she's watching. She's connected to the world. That's the pride of any mother. You want your kids to leave a legacy, and a positive one at that."
The fundraising is being done through Dorcas Works International, a nonprofit Diabe founded in 2007 to help children and women in third-world countries. As of this week, the Diabes have raised $765 of their nearly $69,000 goal for the Camp Perrin school.
The Diabes plan to visit Haiti in late April to start work on the school, with the help of a Dorcas Works team already in Haiti. Diabe said they're planning four visits over the next year to build the school, with the ultimate goal of dedicating and opening the school for Utopia's 14th birthday in January 2015. Beyond looking for funds to build the school, Diabe said there's an open invitation for people to come to Haiti with them.
"We want people to come with us," she said. "Trust me, it makes a difference when you see how kids live. It tends to make you appreciate what you have."
For more information about Utopia's fundraising, or the school in Haiti, or to make a donation, contact Diabe at joanna@email@example.com, or go to gofundme.com/67aegg.