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One good turn deserves another

Columbine survivor repaying kindness by aiding East Timor's schoolchildren

By Charley Able
Denver Rocky Mountain News Staff Writer

When Columbine survivor Richard Castaldo was facing his "darkest hours," Nobel Peace Prize laureate Jose Ramos-Horta of East Timor visited his hospital room with a message of hope.

Now Castaldo wants to return the favor by leading an effort to help the youngsters of violence-racked East Timor restore their schools.

"About a week after I was shot ... Jose Ramos-Horta visited me when I was in the hospital in some of my darkest hours, and I was very grateful for this support and friendship," Castaldo said Monday.

"I have learned that to have friends, you must also be a friend. Wherever you live, everything is interconnected. What happens in Denver affects Tibet and affects Africa, it affects East Timor."

Castaldo's news conference was sponsored by PeaceJam Foundation, a Denver-based organization formed in 1996 to inspire teens to become a new generation of peacemakers.

Since its formation in Denver, 20,900 teenagers have participated in the worldwide program, which has developed and implemented more than 400 service projects.

PeaceJam Educational Relief for East Timor, the aid effort for East Timor's schoolchildren, was announced Monday.

By March 10, the foundation hopes to fill a shipping container with pens, pencils, activity books and workbooks, glue sticks, chalk, crayons, markers, solar-powered calculators, rulers, protractors, slide rules, pencil sharpeners, blackboards, dictionaries and math and English textbooks to restore the island nation's schools.

"He (Castaldo) has gone from somebody who is the victim of one of the most horrible American tragedies of the 20th century to (being) an international activist," said Ivan Suvanjieff, PeaceJam's executive director.

"That shows some tremendous growth that is spiritual in nature, that is compassionate in nature," Suvanjieff said.

Many of East Timor's schools were dismantled and shipped away for sale by Indonesian-supported militias that terrorized the nation from 1975 to 1999, when East Timor voted for independence from Indonesia.

A campaign of terrorism and destruction followed the vote. East Timor, which now is administered by the United Nations, is expected to conduct elections and become fully independent next year.

Castaldo, a member of PeaceJam since 1997, was left partially paralyzed after the rampage at Columbine High School in April 1999, when students Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold killed 12 students and a teacher before taking their own lives.

School supplies and cash contributions may be sent to PERFET, in care of TheCommunity.com, 3212 Jefferson St., No. 217, Napa, Calif. 94558.

January 16, 2001