Laiqa Dilip, a student from Pakistan attending West Salem High School, is serious about creating more peace and harmony between her country and the United States and she backs up her words with actions.

A pancake breakfast fundraiser she’s organized for cancer victims and their families is just a part of what she’s doing during her year in West Salem.

“I was looking for projects to benefit people,” Dilip said. “I want to remove the misconceptions and exaggerations about my country and show citizens that we are not that bad.”

Ann and Richard Garbers, Dilip’s host parents, had never hosted an exchange student before, but it has worked out better than they expected.

“It’s been a wonderful experience,” Ann said. “She is so nice and so sweet.”

Dilip is in the country through a scholarship from the Youth Exchange and Study Program and American Field Service. The YES program is funded by the U.S. State Department. It provides scholarship for students 15 to 17 years old from countries with significant Muslim populations to spend up to one academic year in the United States. There’s also a YES Abroad Program that allows American students to spend a year or a semester in select countries.

According to Ann, Dilip wanted to do some sort of project and she wanted it to be big. “We talked with Rita Schmitz (who is also hosting an international student) and she said that the big thing around here is cancer,” Ann said. Ann lost her mother from cancer so that idea resonated with her as well.

Schmitz called a friend at Mayo Clinic Healthsystem and was told about the Oasis Program that helps financially strapped cancer victims and their families with donations for gas and food. Dilip then asked the West Salem American Legion if she could use the Legion for a pancake breakfast.

With a date of Sunday, Jan. 27, set, Dilip sent out flyers and contacted businesses to donate items for a silent auction. “Whatever we get will go to Oasis,” Dilip said.

Dilip is from Karachi, the capital of Pakistan and a city with a population of 21 million people. Understandably, that meant a bit of an adjustment coming to a small town like West Salem — plus the Garbers live out in the country.

“I think she’s learned that living in a small community, it’s like the town is a family,” Ann said. “When something happens, everyone steps up.”

In addition to the pancake breakfast, Dilip has volunteered at the West Salem Care and Share Food Pantry and said she plans to continue to do so.

She’s also planning on “adopting” a grandparent at a West Salem nursing home. “They told me there are three people there who don’t get any visitors,” she said. “That’s something I want to do second semester.”

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