Strokes of hopes

Deepa Bharath

Amanda Magallanez calls herself an "average kid."

The junior attends Santiago Creek School, an alternative high

school run by the Orange County Department of Education. She is part

of a group of students who worked with severely disabled students at

Corona del Mar High School's Special Day Class to create two murals

to exchange with students from Cape Town, South Africa.

The two murals were unveiled Friday morning at the county

Department of Education's Costa Mesa campus and were presented to the

Amy Biehl Foundation, which partially funded the project.

Amy Biehl, a Newport Harbor High School graduate, was killed in

1993 by a mob of angry black youths in South Africa. Biehl, who was

26 when she was killed, a Stanford University student and a Fulbright

scholar, was helping people register to vote in the racially torn

country when she was stoned and stabbed to death.

The foundation was created by her late father, Peter Biehl, whose

work is being continued by her mother Linda and brother, Zack.

The mural exchange project gave Magallanez and other students the

chance to express themselves artistically, she said.

"It was a challenge because we had to work together," she said.

"We had to try and figure out how to portray ourselves to these

people from a different country and culture. We tried to tell them

who we are -- that we're just average kids trying to get through

life."

Both murals showed people holding hands and forming a human chain.

The one painted by Santiago Creek students showed a different-looking

people being attached to the roots of a tree. On the mural were the

words: "Culture is strength. Love united us in hard times. Past

sacrifice gives birth to new life. Our roots push us forward."

The project gave the students an opportunity to talk about their

own roots and who they are, project coordinator Cyndie Borcoman said.

"They got a lesson in history," she said. "They learned about

apartheid in South Africa and the challenges faced by people in that

country."

The mural, titled "Tree of Hopes," was the students' legacy, said

Adriana Alba-Sanchez of the Orange County Human Relations Council,

who helped the students with the project.

"The students did a lot of talking," she said. "With these

projects, what takes the most time is to get past the disagreement

and figure out what their common ground is."

Students found out that everyone has a past, a history,

Alba-Sanchez said.

"We've all faced struggles, but we all have a future to look

forward to," she said. "Each of us is different and we are

individuals, but we need to work as one unit to move forward and

build a future together. And that's the message of this mural."

Angela Ramirez, an eighth-grader at Santiago Creek, said she

learned a lot about a culture she didn't know about.

"I learned it's a lot harder there than it is for us here," she

said. "I learned we should respect other countries and their

cultures, and we shouldn't take our lives here and our freedom for

granted."

The project is part of the Amy Biehl Foundation's efforts to

foster better understanding between the United States and South

Africa, said Linda Biehl.

"This project was my husband's dream," she told the students. "It

was Amy's dream as well, and she would've been excited to see this."

* DEEPA BHARATH is the enterprise and general assignment reporter.

She may be reached by e-mail at deepa.bharath@latimes.com.

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