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Connecticut teen raises funds to send Rwandan genocide survivor to college

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A Rwandan genocide survivor named Yvette will be attending her second year of college thanks to the hard work and generosity of Zoe Banks, 13, of Pawcatuck, Conn. On Saturday, Banks surpassed her goal of raising $2,000 to cover Yvette's college expenses. Last summer, Banks raised the money for Yvette's first year of college.

"Yvette did amazing!," Banks said in an exclusive interview with Examiner.com. The two girls communicate periodically via Facebook and Skype. "She is a finance major. She had to wake up at 5:30 a.m. to go to work at 7 a.m. After work, she had school from 5-9 p.m. and then studied until 11 p.m. She takes her education very seriously, and her hard work has paid off with excellent grades."

Banks' fundraising efforts started last year after she heard about the plight of the Rwandan genocide survivors. Her mother, Julie Banks, is an emotional freedom techniques (EFT) tapping practitioner who learned about the the Rwandan survivors through her work with the Tapping Solution for Newtown: Stress and Trauma Relief Project. The relief project, led by Lori Leyden, Ph.D., was launched to help the Newtown, Conn., community cope with the horrific massacre at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012.

Dr. Leyden is also the founder of Project LIGHT: Rwanda. She and her team brought tapping to Rwanda to help the orphaned genocide survivors. While in Newtown, she introduced via Skype a Rwandan genocide survivor and JT Lewis whose younger brother was murdered at Sandy Hook. Lewis was so moved by the experience that he started selling Newtown Helps Rwanda bracelets to raise money to send a Rwandan teen to college.

Banks knew right away that she wanted to help as well. She launched Project LIGHT: New England Helps Rwanda and started selling bracelets. Last year, she raised so much money for Yvette's tuition that she only needed to raise $900 this summer.

"But why stop there? I just want to keeping raising money and helping the Rwandans as much as I can," Banks says.

To date, Banks has raised more than $4,100. It costs about $8,000 for a four-year college degree, and Banks is committed to raising the money Yvette needs each year. Banks says the response to her fundraising efforts has been amazing.

"So many people walk by and ask me what I’m doing and want to help," she says. "One man even came back the next day with a can full of pennies and told me what I’m doing is really important. It makes me feel so happy that I can help and make a difference in someone’s life."

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