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Teens take action against violence

Program at Valencia, Canyon high schools teach students world wide human-right issues

Posted: June 2, 2009 7:13 p.m.
Updated: June 3, 2009 4:55 a.m.

The task force hosted Camp Darfur at Valencia High School to show students how families impacted by war and genocide live.

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Students at Valencia and Canyon high schools are raising awareness about human rights by being involved with the Human Rights Watch Student Task Force.

The task force is a high school leadership training program that teaches students about human-rights violations taking place around the world.

"There are so many children around the world who have not been as blessed as we have," said 16-year-old Canyon junior Megan Scherich, communications officer for Canyon's task force.

"We want kids to know that others around the world are not as lucky as we have been and we should do what we can to help," Scherich said.

Raising awareness about these issues is something the students on the force know how to do.

Both schools have hosted the project, Camp Darfur, a student-run presentation organized to simulate life in refugee camps existing in Darfur, Uganda and Afghanistan, among others.

Task-force students pitched various tents to symbolize what life is like for the individuals and families impacted by war and genocide.

"This experience is meant to help raise awareness about life at the camps and what terrible conditions people are forced to live under," Scherich said.

Other members see the significance of getting involved.

"Its great when we can help make students so aware that they turn around and talk about it to other people," said Mariah Mahotz, 16-year-old Canyon junior.

"It's amazing to watch others get involved and go out and continue to raise awareness. It is so inspiring."

Along with the simulated refugee camps, the force provides presentations and assemblies in order to raise awareness among students and the community.

The task force at Valencia and Canyon organized A Child Soldier Assembly, where a former child solider, "Madeleine," talked about her experiences as a young girl separated from her family and forced to become a soldier in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Along with "Madeleine," child soldier negotiator Bukeni Waruzi shared his experiences and voiced the need for immediate foreign aid.

The assembly welcomed students and their families to partake in the presentation.

"This assembly really touched a lot of people," Mahotz said. "And it was a strong reminder of how awareness is the most important aspect of the work we are doing on the force."

Scherich said she has grown from her experience with the group.

"After learning about the atrocities that many individuals are faced with around the world, I realized what a fortunate life I have," Scherich said. "I think this is an important step in wanting to reach out and realizing that it is our duty to do so."

The force has also hosted two film festivals that highlighted films documenting life at the refugee camps from those who were able to speak on the behalf of those still suffering.

The screenings taught what it is like to be a child soldier and offered this perspective to a wide range of members throughout the community, raising awareness every step of the way.

"Being aware of international issues is important to understanding your own basic human rights," said Julia Price, 16, president of the Valencia task force. "The situation you are born into is really the role of the dice. Some are born into luxury, while others are born into war, devastation and poverty."

Price sees the importance of reaching out and giving the necessary helping hand.

"We are making our voices stronger for those who are muffled by the oppression of their circumstances," Price said. "After all, if we don't, then who will?"

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