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Freshmen at Western Harnett HS become activists for Darfur

Originally published in The Sanford Herald, January 2011, by Alexa Milan

Freshman become activists for Darfur

LILLINGTON — In the Darfur region of Sudan, millions of people have been displaced from their homes thanks to a years-long conflict between the Sudanese government and rebel groups. Murder, rape, looting and disease occur on a regular basis.

It’s easy for people to feel bad about the Darfur genocide and move on with their lives, but one determined group of Western Harnett High School freshmen doesn’t consider that an option.

English teacher Nicole Loomis’ Freshman Seminar students have gone from concerned teens to Darfur activists in the span of one semester. The class first learned about the Darfur genocide during a unit on the Holocaust.

“They said it would be terrible if anything like that ever happened again, so I told them about Darfur,” Loomis said.

The students watched a two-hour video about the genocide and were shocked by what they saw. The Darfur genocide is rooted in a conflict between the Sudanese government and two rebel groups that launched an insurgency in response to Darfur’s political and economic marginalization. The Janjaweed, government-supported militia, responded by raiding areas populated by the ethnic groups that supported the rebels and destroying 400 villages.

Millions of people were displaced. Children witnessed their parents being raped and murdered. The United Nations estimates that out of the 6 million people in Darfur, about 4.7 million are still affected by the conflict.

“I felt so sorry for them,” freshman Ari Banda said. “I didn’t understand why [the militia] would do that for no reason.”

In the weeks that followed, Loomis’ students stayed after school researching the conflict. When they asked their peers if they knew about the Darfur genocide, most said no. The students decided to take matters into their own hands. Freshman Amber Gwyn said though they were just a group of 33 freshmen, they knew they could make a difference if they could just reach one person and get that person to tell someone else.

“There is nothing you can lose from trying,” freshman Jenell Feaster said. “You just can’t give up.”

On their own time, the students shot and edited an informational video imploring people to help those in Darfur affected by the genocide. They distributed postcards to send to President Barack Obama, urging him to support the people of Sudan. They sold bracelets featuring the phrase “WHHS for Peace in Darfur” and raised $400, all of which went to the Save Darfur organization.

“This project went as far as it did because of their passion and humanity,” Loomis said.

Their passion appears to be paying off. An AP English student told Loomis she wanted to write her research paper about United States involvement in Darfur because of the Freshman Seminar video. The video also caught the attention of Save Darfur, which will feature it on sometime within the next month.

The students said they won’t stop raising awareness about Darfur just because the Freshman Seminar class is over. They hope to turn “WHHS for Peace in Darfur” into an official extracurricular organization so they can continue their efforts.

“I just hope the genocide stops, period,” freshman Robin Barber said. “No child should have to describe those horrible situations.”

Check out the video below the students created to educate their classmates about Darfur.



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