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Graduate Student Advocacy in Action: How to Act Against the Genocide in Darfur, Sudan

By Lindsay Liotta, Tara Calafiore, Michelle Reilly, Caitlin Colandrea, Christina Massa, & Dennis Finger

As school psychologists, we are committed to enhancing the education and personal growth of the students we encounter. A nontraditional way of doing so is by empowering students to help others, as well as educating them on national and international events. Making a difference in the lives of others typically increases one’s self-worth and efficacy. Furthermore, educating students on these events fosters the growth of mature, socially responsible students who feel connected to the world in which they live. After considering these ideas, the School Psychology Fundraising Committee at Kean University (New Jersey) decided to educate students at local public schools and involve them in our fundraising efforts. We encourage others to do the same when orchestrating humanitarian efforts, as it proves to expand the positive effect that one fundraising team can have on both local and global populations.

Refugee Camps in Darfur

This year, it has been our mission to focus on aiding the countless families in Darfur, Sudan who are being victimized by the Sudanese government and Janjaweed militia. These families have left their homes to reside in refugee camps because they fear being kidnapped; additionally, it is common for women who leave the refugee camps to be raped and men to be murdered (Mishori, 2009). In our field, one consistently witnesses the effects that an unstable home environment and a broken family infrastructure can have on the development of children. Fear of losing a mother or sister at a moment’s notice is a daily stressor encountered by the youth within the refugee camps. Consequently, we can only imagine the devastating effects that the living situations and high crime rate have had on the growth of the Darfurian children. Currently, in Darfur, 2.5 million men, women, and children have been displaced from their homes and forced to live in refugee camps (New Jersey Coalition Responds, n.d.). The refugee camps act to protect these families who are consistently being tortured by the Sudanese government and Janjaweed militia. Children find themselves among foreign surroundings with the constant fear of losing their families or being tortured themselves.

Solar Cookers Provide Relief to Victim

Nearly 400,000 people have already been victims of rape and murder (Lederer, 2008). In order to help prevent these devastating numbers from increasing, our committee has joined efforts with the Human Rights Institute on campus and other NJ organizations to adopt the Oure Cassoni Refugee Camp in Chad. To prevent mothers from having to leave the refugee camps and enter harm’s way, we have been devoted to raising money to purchase solar cookers. Previously, in order to provide meals for their families, women were forced to leave these refugee camps to find wood. The solar cookers replace the wood and prevent women from having to leave the refugee camps. This has been shown to substantially decrease the amount of rape and murder that is currently occurring. Although this cooking/sanitation method is slower than using firewood and can be weather-dependent, it is low-maintenance and provides safety for the refugees and their families, allowing them to reestablish their confidence and their community (New Jersey Coalition Responds, n.d.).

The solar cooker project also offers secondary benefits. It provides income opportunities to women in the camps by allowing them to train others to use the cookers, as well as manufacture these useful tools on their own. They can also manufacture carrying bags to prolong the life of the cookers. A $30 donation provides two solar cookers for a family, two pots, two potholders, a year’s supply of plastic bags, and skills training for refugee women and girls. Although solar cookers may appear as an unlikely solution to an extremely complicated problem, the impact that they have in reducing the number of rapes and murders proves that a simple idea can have a profound impact on the lives of many. It is this message of hope that has inspired us and that we desire to pass along through our fundraising efforts.

Involving K–12 Students in the Humanitarian Effort

In our efforts to raise money for the women and children of Darfur, a unique opportunity presented itself to our group. We learned of Westlake School’s Program SAVE, a vocational program that is offered by Union County’s Educational Services Commission in New Jersey. Students at Westlake range in age from 7 to 21, and they have multiple disabilities including cognitive impairments, physical disabilities, and autism spectrum disorders. SAVE is a program that helps children prepare for future employment, as well meet academic goals and further develop interpersonal skills. The goal is that students learn to be active/functional members of the community. Program SAVE has been a great success at Westlake School since its introduction 5 years ago. Westlake reports that “100% of SAVE students have attained full time employment at a sheltered workshop upon graduation from Westlake School due to the skills they acquired during this five-year program.” The students in Program SAVE were able to contribute to our fundraising efforts by making chocolate ribbon-shaped lollipops as well as ribbons printed with the words “Save Darfur.” We were then able to distribute this merchandise to individuals who made donations. Not only were we able to educate donors about Darfur’s conditions and the value of their contributions, we were also able to tell them about a successful local program for children with disabilities.

Encouraging Involvement and Activism

We plan to continue to involve local schools in our mission to stop the genocide in Darfur. As our fundraising efforts have developed, we have been asked to make age appropriate presentations at surrounding elementary, middle, and high schools. We hope that spreading awareness through informing youth will create a generation of well-versed, motivated advocates for the solar cooker project and other outreach programs. It has been energizing to meet school administrators and teachers who also aspire to educate children about one of the most devastating social issues of our time. These school presentations will give us an opportunity to disseminate our knowledge about this topic while offering suggestions for future school-wide fundraisers. Our goal is to educate and encourage students in New Jersey to be involved in community service as we actively try to help families in Darfur. Additionally, we are joining with other universities in New Jersey to educate college students. By spreading awareness, we can augment the impact that can be made at the Oure Cassoni Refugee Camp and illustrate the impact this nationwide project can make on other refugee camps in Darfur. Marked progress has already been made in the Iridimi and Touloum camps in Chad thanks to the efforts of other proponents of the solar cooker project. While New Jersey, with the support of Governor Corzine, works to fund solar cookers for the Oure Cassoni Refugee Camp, other states can join together and adopt a refugee camp. For more information on adopting a refugee camp or additional fundraising ideas, please visit www.savedarfur.org or www.jewishworldwatch.org.

References and Resources

Lederer, E. M. (2008). UN says Darfur conflict worsening, with perhaps 300,000 dead. Fox News. Retrieved February 21, 2008, from http://www.foxnews.com/printer_friendly_wires/2008Apr22/0,4675,UNSudanDarfur,00.html

Mishori, R. (2009). The simple tool saves women’s lives. Parade Magazine. Retrieved March 28, 2009, from http://www.parade.com/health/2009/03/solar-cooker-project.html

Wilczenski, F. L., & Commey, S. M. (2008). Best practices in service-learning: Enhancing the social/emotional and academic competence of all students. In A. Thomas & J. Grimes, Best practices in school psychology V. Bethesda, MD: National Association of School Psychologists.

New Jersey Responds to the Crisis in Darfur Coalition. (n.d.) New Jersey coalition responds to the crisis in Darfur. Retrieved February 20, 2008, from http://www.njdarfur.org/index.php


Lindsay Liotta is a student in Kean University’s School Psychology Program where she serves as the NASP student leader and cochair of the School Psychology Fundraising Committee.
Tara Calafiore, Michelle Reilly, Caitlin Colandrea, and Christina Massa are also students in the School Psychology Program at Kean University.
Dr. Dennis Finger is the program coordinator of the School Psychology Program and cochair of the School Psychology Fundraising Committee.