When coronavirus hit the nation, future high school sophomores Eesha Neunaha and Liya Chen knew they wanted to do something to help. Calling on connections, resources, and innovation, they began collecting masks and funds. But, from there, the question soon became: Where would their donation do the most good? The answer: Native communities.
“After reading about how vulnerable Native people are to coronavirus, we realized that they might really appreciate as much money as we can help raise for the community,” said Liya.
That’s when they learned about First Nations Development Institute and the COVID-19 Emergency Response Fund and made a generous donation of $4,000 to help Native communities.
The two philanthropists are classmates at The Hockaday School in Dallas, where they regular work together on community service projects. In the middle of March when closures and medical needs increased nationwide, the teens learned that a lot of hospitals did not have enough masks. At the same time, China had an excess of masks, and Liya’s father helped Liya connect with several companies in China to facilitate a donation of 3,000 masks to the Dallas community.
Meanwhile, others learned about the girls’ outreach and wanted to lend a hand by giving monetarily. Eesha worked with her parents in setting up a Go Fund Me page, and both teens set out to spread the word. The donations quickly poured in, as the teens researched where the funds could be best used.
“We were looking for a community that was more in need,” Eesha explained. “We started thinking about Native communities, and that’s when we learned about First Nations.”
Liya said that reading the descriptions on First Nations’ website about the impact of the pandemic in areas that are already at risk was a learning experience. “For me, in our daily lives, we don’t really hear about what’s going on in these communities. But this project really opened my eyes to a whole new world.”
Eesha shared that it’s a world that resonated with the teens, as they are both considered minorities and both daughters of immigrants, with Eesha’s parents originally from India and Liya’s parents originally from China.
Those parents are proud of the girls and supportive of their efforts. “They were glad that we chose an organization near us and close to our hearts,” Eesha said.
First Nations is grateful for both girls’ contribution. Eesha and Liya’s donation went directly to First Nations’ COVID-19 Emergency Response Fund, from which 100% of donations were given out in the form of grants to 81 Native-led organizations for general operating, response and relief expenses. “Only through contributions were we able to do so much,” said Eileen Egan, Director of Development for First Nations. “And the contribution of Eesha and Liya were beyond commendable. They inspired us and touched our hearts, and we are ever grateful for their advocacy, awareness, and generosity.”