On December 6, the front lawn of Venice High School was transformed into a refugee camp with over half the school’s population filing through. Over 1500 students were participating in a project called Camp Darfur, organized by a group of 20 students committed to raising awareness about the human rights violations occurring in the Darfur region of Sudan in Africa.
The Venice students have teamed up with students from Crossroads, Wildwood and Palisades High schools to join the Human Rights Watch’s Student Task Force (STF). This task force, only in operation since September, has already engaged with international activists and school administrations to educate themselves and fellow students about human rights violations around the globe.
Venice High teacher Phyllis Hayashibara explains that the STF is really about kids protecting kids. “There is so much students in the U.S. don’t know about what goes on in the world. The STF shows students how to be citizens of the world, that they have the power to do something. People do do things for people outside of themselves and those are the kinds of students we want to graduate from Venice High School.”
The Camp Darfur event itself was developed by international activist Gabriel Stauring. It travels across the country, spreading awareness about Darfur by putting the conflict in the context of 20th century genocides. The Venice High event also included a food tent comparing the daily rations of hot cereal served in a real refugee camp to the daily consumption of American students, as well as a tent for students to write letters to various politicians and sign petitions. Over 2,000 signatures were collected and sent to Representative Jane Harmon. Students were also given special permission to use their cell phones on Wednesday to call Representative Harmon, encouraging her to be more proactive in protecting Darfur.
In a video tent, students taped messages that would be shown to refugee children in Chad. Gabriel Stauring will be heading there this week on a humanitarian research mission. “This is about awareness going both ways,” said Hayashibara. “We want the kids in Darfur to know that they are not forgotten,” despite the fact that the international community has been slow to respond. Students at Camp Darfur learn that most of the people who make it to the camps in Chad from their homes in Darfur have endured rape or torture from the government-backed militia, and many have witnessed the murder of family members and destruction of villages. Over two million people have been displaced from their homes since the conflict started three years ago. An additional 1.7 million people have needed food aid because the conflict has destroyed the economy in the region. Many positive steps have been taken by the international community, and the conflict has been receiving increased media attention. For example, last year the University of California divested holdings in companies that did dealings with the Sudanese government, which supports the genocide.
The overall message the students are trying to send through the experience of Camp Darfur is that the U.S. must do something to help the people of Darfur. “We do not advocate military intervention of any kind, only humanitarian intervention,” clarified Hayashibara.
Crossroads students attended the Venice High event in preparation of hosting it at their campus sometime in the spring. The camp’s next stop is Wildwood in late January. Students from across campuses are currently involved in a training that will make them Student Ambassadors, qualified to go to other high schools and middle schools and teach kids about what is going on in Darfur and what they can do to stop it.
Last year, Palisades High School hosted Camp Darfur. Steven Hunter, a Pali Social Studies teacher, said, “Our STF students are organizing a ‘Die-in’…Many STF members will be playing dead during lunch to dramatize the horrors in Darfur and Eastern Chad. Other team members will supply handouts and info on the crisis.” [The Die-in occurred after the Mirror went to press.]
Students in the STF not only learn and teach about human rights, but they gain valuable leadership experience. Hayashibara says, “These students were exhilarated from being actively engaged” with these important topics.
For more information on the Human Rights Watch Student Task Force in Southern California, go to www.hrwcalifornia.org/ south.
To learn more about what you can do to help the people of Darfur, go to www.hrw.org