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Students working to change lives

Canyon and Valencia meet to discuss how they can help overseas

Posted: March 11, 2009 1:10 a.m.
Updated: March 11, 2009 4:55 a.m.

Senior Julia Price and junior Kimbey Stephenson during a school event to help raise awareness of the child soldiers in Darfur. Price recently made a presentation to the U.N. Secretary-General on the plight of child soldiers around the world.

Members from the Human Rights Watch Student Task Force at Canyon and Valencia high schools met Monday at Valencia High School to raise awareness about the humanitarian crisis in Darfur, Sudan.

"Our job, as young people with a voice, is to speak out for those who don't have one," said Julia Price, 15-year-old president of the student task force at Canyon High School.

"We need to raise the awareness," Price said, "because a voice is only as strong as the people behind it."
About 450,000 people have been killed and 2.7 million displaced from their homes in Darfur since 2003. Local students have stepped up to help.

Six canvas tents were pitched in at the Valencia High School quad, where students passed through the display to learn from their peers about the victims of the genocide in Darfur, and what they can do to make a difference.

"People may think that there is nothing they can do, but the smallest act can make a big change," said Canyon senior Jessica Lopez, 17. "One person may not realize how powerful they are by just offering a hand to reach out, whether through donation or their time to raise awareness. We want to make each person feel that they do have that power to help."

The local schools worked together with Gabriel Stauring, founder of Camp Darfur, a Human Rights Watch program that simulates tents in a refugee camp at different high schools across America.

"We have taken this program to churches and universities all over the U.S., but it's so inspiring to see how the program becomes student-run when it gets to high schools," Stauring said.

"These students are so involved, seeing people as individuals instead of just numbers. This is where you can see that the future of our country is really strong."

Each student speaker gave a presentation to help fellow students become aware of the refugee situation and gain perspective about their own lives during the Monday event.

All six tents focused on a particular topic.

"This tent is to show you what life is like in a refugee camp right now," said Laurent Abergel, 15, of Valencia High, as he sat behind a table of food to show what Americans eat and what refugees eat in Darfur.

"We take for granted that we have everything, but everything has been taken away from them by violence and destruction. These people have been left with nothing."

"Here is a Dr. Pepper," Abergel said. "We just think of it as a soda, but people in the camps only get one gallon of water per day."

Refugees must drink and bathe for the day with one gallon, Abergel said.

Abergel's twin sister is actively involved in the organization to help raise awareness. Audrey Abergel, 15, is president of Valencia High's Student Task Force.

"It feels so good to educate people and see them brought together to do good in this world," Abergel said.

"If just one more person wants to help, then that is what it's all about. I am just glad to see that our focus as young people is about reaching out and connecting to the whole world."

The last tent in the sequence of six was called "Patchwork Quilt." Drawings from elementary school students across the United States were displayed, showing pictures of colorful square-shaped pictures of butterflies and peace signs, showing how they saw their lives in America.

The patches contrasted the drawings by children living in refugee camps in Darfur who showed scenes of violence, bloodshed and tears to represent the struggles of their lives.

"It's the world they've seen since they were born," Lopez said about the children in Darfur. "We hope to give them a better world, all of us together, one step at a time."

The students involved with the Task Force hope to present a petition to the United Nations later this year to declare genocide on the violent crimes against humanity in Sudan, making it possible to send in American peace troops to aid and support those in need.


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