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Gigabytes to Ghana Tonnette Lyles | Sat, Apr 30 2011 12:00 PM

A desire to work with children and a love of travel is sending Nicole Behar thousands of miles away.

Encouraged by her mother to always give a helping hand to others in need, she says she has grown to love helping children get what they deserve.

"The way I was raised was to give back. I like to give back to children who don't have anything. We are going there to set up a computer lab, help furnish classrooms, paint and do mosaics for the children in Ghana," said Nicole, a 17-year-old junior at Coronado High School and a Bonita resident said.

Nicole's opportunity to give back came when her art teacher Kirsten Green, a frequent traveler to Ghana, mentioned to students that she was arranging a trip to the country and invited students at the school to go.

This is the fourth trip with students Green is taking to Ghana. She first traveled to the country with the Peace Corps.

"I go to Ghana every other year or so, I assessed the needs and saw that they needed furniture in the classrooms and the last time I was there I asked them, if I could raise money and bring people, what would you want? They said a computer lab," Green said.

Nicole has looked forward to the trip since she found out in January they were going. The group has been raising money for computers for the proposed computer lab, and furniture for the classrooms.

The estimated costs for the trip and the philanthropy is between $30,000 to $40,000.

The group has held several fundraisers at local restaurants, bake sales and they have even planned a yoga-thon to help meet their goals.

In Ghana, Green's contacts are building a place for the young travelers to live during their four week stay in Africa.

"They're building a mud hut for us," Nicole said.

When she first heard they would be living in a mud hut she was surprised and wondered how they would all fit and what it was going to be like.

"I don't care about that kind of stuff, I was like, cool, I am going to be staying in a mud hut," Nicole said.

"I look at it like an adventure," she said. "It is going to have bathrooms, bedrooms, plumbing and running water from a nearby well."

Nicole says she is used to traveling with her parents and staying in nice hotels and going to luxurious places. But she is happy to be going on this trip because she wants to learn how to travel with limited resources.

"When I start traveling on my own, I probably won't have much money," she said.

In addition to working together to build computer labs and furnishing classrooms, each student will also be working individually on their own projects.

Some students will be working on a documentary about child labor in Ghana; Nicole will be teaching the children to paint and helping Green with a mosaic.

"I love painting. My grandpa taught us all to paint when we were little," Nicole said. "It is therapeutic; instead of therapy we paint," she said.

Nicole hopes painting will help the Ghanaian children when they are scared or sad and that it will get them through what they're going through.

"I hope I can leave them with something that is special in their lives and that gets them through difficult times," Nicole said.

Children in Ghana struggle to attend school, particularly in Tongo where the group of students will stay.

Only a select few make it to middle school and even fewer, 27 percent, make it to high school, Green said.

One reason for the difficulty is that questions about computers are asked on high school eligibility exams. A lot of students have never seen a computer, Green said.

The rural area does not have a lot of the opportunities that the larger more urban cities have in Ghana.

Nicole said her mother was easy to convince once she told her about the trip; but her father took some working on.

"I am very proud of her," said Karen Russo, Nicole's mother. "I am proud that she is able and willing to help give others a better life."

Traveling is something that Nicole knows she wants to do in the future.

After she graduates from high school she plans to take a year off and spend some time in Argentina with family.

"We have a lot of family there," she said speaking of her mother's extended family.

"I do not know what I want to do but I know I want to travel," Nicole said.

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