- Associated Press - Sunday, February 15, 2015

MARLBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) - The mission of raising money to construct much-needed schools in poverty-stricken Guatemala has consumed Michael Tirpak.

“I wake up thinking about it,” said Tirpak, a member of Marlborough High School’s Class of 2012. “I go to bed thinking about it. It latched on to me.”

While attending a corporate event last spring, Tirpak, who is studying business administration at Daytona State College in Daytona Beach, Florida, saw a promotional video for Hug It Forward, a grassroots organization that partners volunteers and Guatemalan students and residents together to build bottle schools.

Like traditional schools, bottle schools are built using foundations, columns and beams made from concrete and reinforced with iron. But instead of using cinder-blocks or bricks, the walls are made using eco-bricks.

An eco-brick is a plastic bottle filled with inorganic trash, such as potato chip bags and plastic bags, which are bound between layers of chicken wire and attached to a metal frame. Three layers of cement are then applied to the outside of the bottles to create a wall, according to Hug It Forward’s website.

“I completely latched on to it,” said Tirpak. “I fell in love with the idea.”

Since 2009, Hug It Forward has constructed 50 two-room bottle schools in Guatemala and two others in El Salvador.

After hearing of the organization, Tirpak raised $4,000 in the late spring and summer and traveled to Guatemala to build a school, an experience he described as “life changing.” Tirpak traveled to Guatemala once again in December to celebrate the opening of the 50th Guatemalan bottle school last month.

“It was a huge moment,” he said. “It was very impactful.”

After his two most recent trips, Tirpak was inspired to spearhead his own campaign to raise the $13,000 needed to construct a two-room school with Hug It Forward in Guatemala.

“No one I knew was really poor,” he said. “I never got the feeling of poverty. It hit me like a ton of bricks. They have nothing. Even though they have nothing, it’s like they have everything.”

Tirpak launched his campaign with some events at Daytona State College, including a barbecue, and hopes to receive donations from the Marlborough-area community as well.

“It’s a big goal,” he said. “We’re willing to do whatever it takes. We’re going to get the funds.”

Building schools in Guatemala not only provides opportunities for Guatemalan children, but also brings the community together through the project, said Tirpak.

“It’s community driven,” said Tirpak. “I want to work with this organization for the rest of my life to help children around the world.”

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