STUDENTS DECRY DARFUR ‘HOLOCAUST’

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Forget Lindsay Lohan and fence-plowing and occasionally topless amateur hour contestants. There is hope for the next generation.

With the help of a social studies teacher, two Rumson-Fair Haven High School seniors, Nikki Schneider and Kellie Donovan, organized Wednesday night’s “Night for Darfur” with the aim of informing the community about “another holocaust” underway in the Darfur region of the Sudan.

“What’s going on affects us all,” said Schneider. “We made a promise after the Holocaust. It’s unacceptable.”

Schneider and Donovan felt moved to action after attending a conference sponsored by STAND: A Student Anti-Genocide Coalition, a national student group trying to stop the Darfur conflict. (Yeah, we were baffled by the name, too; STAND used to be an acronym for “Students Taking Action Now: Darfur.”)

“Kellie and I said, ‘We have to do more,’” said Schneider, who plans to study political science or international affairs and speaks with quiet confidence. Last spring, she helped raise close to $1,000 to help a Darfurian refugee, an effort she called “only a stepping stone.”

Donovan is not sure of her post-high school plans, but says she is motivated by the humanitarian issues and by being a “people person.”

“It’s such a horrific thing,” she said of the events in Darfur. “People don’t realize that. A girl at school asked me if Darfur was a band. Some kids think it’s not real.’”

The two want to make sure people know just how real it is. They put together the program with a boost from social studies teacher Megan Arnone. Nearly 200 people turned out.

“Seeing the faces [of victims] and what they’re going through makes me to want to help,” said Donovan, who wore a Save Darfur t-shirt. Washington should be doing more to pressure China to divest its holdings in the Sudan, she said. “How many deaths will it take?”

The largest African country, Sudan is the size of Texas, and the Darfur region is home to six million people. Two-and-a-half million have been displaced and 400,000 murdered by the government-sponsored Janjaweed militia since 2003, STAND reports.

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Wednesday’s featured speaker, a Darfurian refugee named Abdelbagy Abushanab, was delayed at Newark Airport and did not arrive until the end of the program. An American citizen, Abushanab leads the Newark-based Darfur Rehabilitation Project, a Sudanese group promoting peace and education about the region.

We missed his presentation, but we learned afterward that he told the audience he still has “half his heart” in Sudan, where he lost several siblings and a cousin. His goal is to educate the U.S. and work with the international community to broker a peace deal.

Social studies teacher Arnone minced no words in calling for the United Nations to “enforce its charter” by stopping the crisis. She asked for a tough resolution from the U.N. Security Council to include economic sanctions and armed troops, if necessary. She condemned the U.N. for avoiding the term “genocide,” which would force action. The U.S., among other countries, has called it genocide, she noted.

Arnone teaches an elective called Modern Conflicts that she hopes to have made into a full-year program.

“We need to teach the kids about modern political issues, so they’ll see it as not just background noise in the news,” she said. “It affects them.”

—By LINDA G. RASTELLI

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