Willi Rechler admits that, before last summer, she had been a little selfish. The Jericho High School senior lived a moderately comfortable existence and, while always involved in philanthropy, hadn't so much seen how the rest of the world lived. All of that, she said, changed.
Rechler, who helped to found the Amnesty International Club in tenth grade, wanted to see firsthand the situations that concerned her. She joined a travel program with Putney Student Travel and booked a ticket to Cambodia, a country still recovering from the genocidal reign of the Khmer Rouge, not knowing what to expect.
"I went there with an open mind," she said. "What I learned in Cambodia changed me. I have a different perspective on the world."
She learned about the effect of genocide and was particularly struck by the lack of medical care. She also saw a community struggling to grow out of its past difficulties and progress toward modernization.
What she saw, she said, has made her involved in the situation in Darfur and motivated her to petition for inclusion of genocide studies in the curriculum. Jericho recently started offering the class.
"One of the best moments was my brother coming home and yelling at me because he had a test on the curriculum," she said. "When I have a decision to make on anything, I just think about what I learned and it makes me want to make the world a better place."
Similar sentiments have also led her to organize the Cambodian Children's Fund, a fundraiser that raised over $4,000. Rechler also hopes to continue her studies of different cultures at Yale, where she'll be attending this fall.