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OPRF students raise funds to aid refugees in Darfur BY CHRIS LAFORTUNE
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May 25, 2006 - 5:26:00 AM

OPRF students raise funds to aid refugees in Darfur

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If people are going to combat the ongoing genocide in Darfur, Sudan, then the effort has to start small, Oak Park-River Forest High School senior Nick Vom Brack said.

"After 400,000 deaths and 2 million displaced, I think it's time we took action," Vom Brack said.

OPRF students took some action last week, selling T-shirts and flowers to raise money for the Darfur Peace and Development Organization. By Monday afternoon, students had managed to raise about $3,300 through sales, OPRF Jamie Bender said.

That money could be used to contribute to a school for refugees in Darfur, said Jen Marlowe, director of the documentary "Darfur Diaries: Messages From Home."

"Darfur Diaries" was filmed in four villages, Marlowe said, and there are refugees in and around those villages who have had no access to education for the last three years.

"As soon as four to six weeks from now, the school could be started," said Marlowe, one of several speakers at the high school Monday to talk about Darfur.

Other speakers scheduled to discuss Darfur Monday included State Sen. Don Harmon, D-39th, Rabbi Victor Mirelman of West Suburban Temple Har Zion in River Forest, the Rev. Alan Taylor of Unity Temple and Bosnian Muslim leader Tamim Chowdhury, a survivor of the Bosnian genocide.

"To think that we're sitting here doing nothing, and that 17- and 18-year-olds do not know that thousands of people are dying and they are just going on with their daily lives is ridiculous," senior Emma Wood said.

According to the organization Human Rights Watch, more than 200,000 civilians have been killed and almost 2 million people displaced since the armed conflict between the government and rebel forces in Darfur began in early 2003.

Teachers Jamie Bender, Yeni Hart and Matthew Maloney have been working with their students, discussing the ongoing fighting in Sudan in their classes. Bender helped to organize a visit Monday by speaker Jen Marlowe, director of the documentary "Darfur Diaries: Messages from Home."

"I have pulled my anthropology class out for this," Bender said. "I'm focusing on cultural awareness and how I can make my students more globally responsive and active."

Maloney said his comparative politics class does a unit on 20th century genocide and the international community's involvement. He discussed the situation in Sudan at the end of the unit.

"Yeni Hart, actually, in her AP psychology course and intro to psychology course was talking about the social psychology of genocide," Maloney said.

The two worked together to offer students presentations on the subject, and students started talking about how they could become more active. That was two weeks ago.

"The students have done a fantastic job," Maloney said. "There are about 150 interested students that have either been selling T-shirts, picking up flowers ... A lot of these students have really been putting in a lot of time. It's just been great."

Students were successfully raising awareness among the OPRF population just by wearing T-shirts and doing their sales last week, senior Holly Roadruck said. Roadruck said she overheard students asking about Darfur in the hallways.

Students had managed to sell just about all 500 flowers they ordered and 150 T-shirts they had ordered by Wednesday afternoon and were planning to order more for Monday.

"For the past three years, people probably had not heard about Darfur, until today," Roadruck said. "Now we're getting the word out."

The school is still accepting donations for Darfur, Maloney said. Anyone interested in donating can make checks payable to the high school, and put "Darfur Donation" on the memo line.

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