The Darfur region of Sudan is a long way from the leafy suburbs of Lake Forest Park, but Nicole Luche, a seventh grader at Kellogg Middle School, wants the suffering there to stop.
Angela Murray, Luche’s social studies teacher, taught an unusually forthright unit on human-rights violations this spring and assigned the students a project with one parameter: Choose an issue and take action.
“She left it up to us as to what we were going to do,” Luche said. “My whole class was very shocked and we were very motivated to do something, and realized we can do something.”
For her project, Luche chose Darfur, where at least 180,000 people have been murdered in a genocide that’s part of a civil war. Some estimate the number at 400,000.
More than two million people have fled their homes, spilling over into impoverished neighboring countries. The war started in 2003.
The situation has not been well-publicized in recent years.
“I think it needs to be more well-known and the only way we can help is by more people knowing about it,” Luche said.
Luche, working with two other students, wants to organize a large rally at Third Place Books in Lake Forest Park to raise awareness of the situation, if she can gather support.
The rally, still in the planning stages, could be held in June. (One of the group members asked not to be named and the other, Ivy, preferred that just her first name be used.)
At the rally, Luche would show the Power Point presentation she created for her class project. At the Third Place Books food court last month, she flipped open a lap top and opened some of the pictures from that presentation. One photo showed a crying baby with an open wound on his back.
“This child was burnt in the bombing of his village,” Luche said.
The Janjaweed militia use planes to bomb villages, then sweep in on horseback and kill the survivors, she explained.
“They also burn the food supply and guard the water supply so those who once lived in the villages cannot return,” she said.
Other pictures showed soldiers walking over arid rocks near a human skull, a starving baby with an enlarged head and visible ribs, a dead child amidst rubble and crowded refugee camps. Many refugees have fled to Chad.
“Chad does not have that many resources,” Luche said. “With this new influx of refugees, it’s really struggling.”
Locals can do something about the problem, Luche believes, “with the help of our government.”
She’s encouraging people to give their time or money to aid groups and to urge lawmakers to send help to Darfur.
As for Luche and her group, they plan to gather signatures on a petition that will urge Congress to send help, peace keepers and supplies there. They also want to create pamphlets and distribute them to the public.
Finally, Luche contacted The Enterprise to raise public awareness of the issue and attended the Darfur rally in Seattle April 30.
Other students in Murray’s class have staged bake sales and fund raisers and passed out fliers for their project, but Luche is going above and beyond, Murray said.
The unit on human-rights violations, and the project assignment itself, are unusual. When the subject matter is taught, it’s at the high-school level, not in middle school, Murray said. Murray created the human-rights unit with her colleague Alan Bruns.
Luche’s mother, Michele Luche, said she appreciates the ambitious approach to teaching world affairs.
“When you give something so horrible to kids this age — they didn’t walk away,” she said. “They decided how they wanted to get the word out. (Nicole would) come home and say, ‘Look what’s going on in our world. You’ve got to see what I found.’”
This month, the Sudanese government signed a peace treaty with the main rebel group in the civil war, thanks in part to last-minute U.S. diplomacy. The plan, rejected by two other rebel groups, may or may not stop the fighting and the genocide.
For information on Darfur, or to take action, see www.savedarfur.org or www.hrw.org, the Human Rights Watch Web site.