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High School Students Step Up to Darfur Crisis

The United Nations, church leaders and even movie star George Clooney are making efforts to bring an end to the violence in Darfur, Sudan, and yet, the humanitarian crisis is at its worst levels ever.
( [email protected] ) Nov 28, 2006 08:36 AM EST

The United Nations, church leaders and even movie star George Clooney are making efforts to bring an end to the violence in Darfur, Sudan, and yet, the humanitarian crisis is at its worst levels ever.

Tired of waiting for any positive changes to the worsening situation, high school students have taken the matter into their own hands.

"Dollars for Darfur," launched mid-November, is rounding up teens nationwide on high school campuses in a fundraising effort to stop the ongoing genocide in Darfur. The goal is to collect at least $200,000 by April 21, 2007. Two high school students, Nick Anderson and Ana Slavin from Northfield Mount Hermon School in Massachusetts, spearheaded the campaign. Some 1,300 students have already signed on to the challenge through Facebook – one of several social networking sites being used to recruit students.

Currently, Los Alamitos High School has raised $430 from six people alone. The students' goal is to collect $10,000. Meadows School in Las Vegas aims to raise $50,000 and has so far received around $300. Students at Lake Mary High School's STAND (Students Taking Action Now: Darfur) club plan to contribute $1,000 to the national high school challenge.

"We started Dollars for Darfur because we got tired of waiting for others to change the world," read a statement by Anderson and Slavin.

"Dollars for Darfur harnesses two powerful energy sources, the Internet and teenagers," stated Slavin. "We will use the connections that we make online and turn them into political leverage and much needed relief for people whose suffering stretches far beyond our imagination."

The number of internally displaced people has reached nearly 2 million – the highest level since the conflict started in 2003, according to the latest U.N. report. And there is growing instability along border areas with Chad and Central African Republic.

Returning last week from a visit to eastern Africa, award-winning actress Mia Farrow and David C. Rubenstein, executive director of the Save Darfur Coalition, released new video footage of refugee camps in Chad where violence in Sudan spilled over.

"The displaced people of eastern Chad and the refugees from Darfur urgently need a United Nations peacekeeping presence with a mandate to protect the civilian population and the courageous humanitarian workers who risk their own lives every day,” Farrow said at a press conference. “We have failed the people of Darfur, and now Chad.”

At least 200,000 people have died since ethnic minority rebels took up arms in 2003 and some say the toll is much higher with villages burnt and mass rape.

Spreading more concern, former Darfur rebel Minni Arcua Minnawi, now serving as presidential adviser, is "sure" that the Sudanese government is rearming the Janjaweed militia. A May peace deal, signed by all but two rebel factions, had called for the disarmament of the Janjaweed by Oct. 22.

"This is clear, Janjaweed are activating even more than before," said Minnawi, according to Reuters. "It is a violation."

Despite efforts to increase the number of peacekeepers in Darfur, the United Nations has faced continual rejection by the African regime to dispatch peacekeepers and has also been increasingly obstructed in its relief efforts in Sudan.

Nevertheless, the many failures to help the situation in war-torn Darfur have inspired high school students to compete with peers across the country to show their concern about the issue.

"High school student can make a difference," said each participant.

Money raised from the high school campaign will fund humanitarian efforts for Darfuri refugees and as well as the advocacy efforts of the Save Darfur Coalition. The winning high school will be recognized nationally by the Save Darfur Coalition and receive a surprise prize, to be announced at that time.