Returning from his 15th trip to visit Darfuri refugee camps in neighboring Chad, Gabriel Stauring visited Palisades High School in early March to update members of the Human Rights Watch Student Task Force (STF).
Pali students have been helping bring the plight of the refugees to the attention of people since Stauring’s first visit to Chad in 2005.
Stauring noted that over the past decade, 400,000 to 500,000 people have been killed in Darfur, three million displaced and countless women raped. “They’re real people who have been suffering for 10 years,” Stauring said.
Much of the world has stood by and done nothing, Stauring said, but “many people are doing something and have been for years.”
Student activism has helped bring Darfur to attention of people throughout the world, Stauring tells the assembled crowd. Under the guidance of teachers Angelica Pereyra and Sandra Martin, the students have remained involved in the cause.
In January 2013, 200,000 people were newly displaced, more than in all of 2012. “When I started visiting, they thought they would get to go back home soon, but there is no going back home in sight,” Stauring said.
“There is very little food, and basic shelter, but they are most hungry for education. They would die to be able to continue their education.”
Part of the presentation included video clips from inside the camps. Rahma, the 16-year-old librarian at Camp Djabal in Eastern Chad, wants to be president of Sudan when he grows up, and unite his people. When Stauring first met him in 2008, he encountered a young man who was cheerful and funny and enthusiastic about life. He is proud of his hut, filled with few possessions, which includes a soccer ball and a bed and sheets. The hut also serves as a Human Rights Mobile Library for the entire camp and beyond.
As librarian, Rahma travels by donkey to spread learning materials, including information on human rights and English that was provided by kids from Los Angeles. He spent two years taking care of the library before a fire destroyed it in December. Rahma was too devastated to talk on camera.
Paloma, a student in the audience, asked Stauring: “Does Rahma believe that somebody burned the hut down?” Rahma suspects arson, Stauring said, noting that the next library will be housed in a school made out of concrete and will be locked.
According to Pam Bruns, executive director of the Human Rights Watch STF, said that due in large part to students at PaliHi and other local high schools, the STF “has collected all the money we need to restore Rahma’s library and some of his personal possessions lost in the fire in his hut.”
The library at Rahma’s camp serves 26,000 people, while a year ago another library, serving 20,000, opened in Camp Goz Amer, also in Eastern Chad. Though Kindles and electronic books burned in the fire, they will be replaced.
A student asked Stauring how they charge the Kindles. “They have little generators. We give Rahma money to charge the Kindle batteries. There is no electricity in camp.”
Stauring tells the students that because of knowledge gained from materials at the library, a young Darfuri boy stood up at a meeting and demanded education as a human right. Rahma loves studying the dictionary to improve his vocabulary, and wants to use his education to help his nation. “They have nothing but time,” Stauring said. “So he spends his time learning.
“Teachers are refugees themselves,” he continues. “The average preschool teacher has a fifth-grade education, while primary school teachers have a high school education.” Classrooms are overcrowded.
Human-rights work was never what Stauring set out to do. A former counselor for abused children and their families, he was distressed by the carnage in Rwanda and thought he would visit Darfuri refugees in Chad just once. He is the co-founder and director of StopGenocideNow.org and founder of i-ACT. When asked by a student how he makes a living, Stauring said, “It’s definitely not easy. So many nonprofits disappeared because of the economy. We never focus on money—we focus on the mission. You don’t get into this to be rich. I get so much more that money cannot buy.” He planned to return to Eastern Chad in May.
When asked what advice he would give to high school students who want to participate, he said, “Get involved in your school clubs. It’s just amazing what these clubs are doing.”
Stauring shares a message from Rahma to the students. “Rahma says thank you. He has you in his thoughts. You just don’t know how much it means for Rahma and others to know people care.”
PaliHi student Naarai Hernandez has enjoyed her experiences as co-president of Pali’s STF. The senior, who will be attending SMC in the fall, said, “It’s been wonderful. I’ve educated myself on issues, and it’s been an enriching experience to be involved with these projects.”
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