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Former student raises Dh99,000 for homeless teacher

Web Report/Dubai
Filed on March 16, 2021
AFP photo used for illustrative purpose

Teacher had been living in his car and had lost his job due to the pandemic.

A former student raised $27,000 (over Dh99,000) for his old high school substitute teacher after he found him living in his car.

According to CNN, Californian Steven Nava, 21, presented his former teacher Jose Villarruel with the cheque for the amount at a surprise birthday party he and other former students threw for Villarruel’s 77th birthday.

"From the bottom of my heart, I just had to resort to all of my self-control not to become sentimental about the whole thing and not to become nervous," Villarruel told CNN. "It was extremely exciting, totally unexpected and great."

Villarruel has lived in his car for the past eight years, all while working as a substitute teacher for Los Angeles Unified School District.

When the pandemic started and classes went to remote learning, the need for substitute teachers went away, he said. Villarruel applied to get his retirement funds so he could have some income.

He made the decision years ago to live in his car because he was sending most of his income to his wife, children and extended family in Mexico, he said.

The money was raised through a GoFundMe campaign that Nava started. The campaign raised about $5,000 in the first few hours and grew bigger once he had made a viral TikTok video about it.

"You're sort of just baffled when you find out that one of your teachers is just homeless," Nava said. "Seeing him living and going through that struggle pretty much made me want to do this. He helped us with our futures and being the person we are today, so I wanted to help him and make sure he's in a situation where he doesn't have to worry anymore."

The San Bernardino County Sheriffs Department heard about Villarruel and assisted him in getting a motel voucher on March 10, said Mike Jones, deputy sheriff of Homeless Outreach and Proactive Enforcement (HOPE) with the county.

This will give Villarruel a place to stay for a month while longer-term housing is arranged, he said.

Villarruel says he plans to take an extended trip to Mexico so he can see his family.

"It's a great feeling to have this change and I still have to adapt to it so I can make the best of it," Villarruel said. "It was unexpected but I accept it with an open heart and I'm ready for whatever comes next. I know good things will come."

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