Monday, October 24, 2005

Teenagers petition to halt Darfur deaths

Web Posted: 10/24/2005 12:00 AM CDT

Rudy Arispe
If Denisse Dubrovsky, who is Jewish, and Yousef Arar, a Muslim, were living in the Middle East, chances are they would be bitter enemies.

But Dubrovsky and Arar say they realize the importance for people of all ethnic and religious backgrounds to get along when working for a common goal: peace.

The two 17-year-old Churchill High School seniors have been working side by side in their efforts to call attention to the killing of African civilians by government-supported militias in the Sudanese region of Darfur.

Dubrovsky and Arar and about 30 other students from Churchill, Clark, Alamo Heights and East Central high schools were at Alamo Plaza on Sunday afternoon, trying to collect 400 signatures for a petition they plan to forward to the state's elected officials in hopes they will ask President Bush to pressure the United Nations to intervene in Darfur. By the end of the day, Dubrovsky said they had collected 350.

The students had originally planned to stage a so-called "die-in," in which they would lie down in Alamo Plaza and pay symbolic homage to Darfur's dead. But without the 100 students they had hoped for, those plans were scrapped.

Dubrovsky said her interest in the Darfur conflict came after hearing her parents discuss the number of Sudanese who had lost their lives. So she started researching the subject.

"I'm Jewish, and I grew up hearing stories about the Holocaust, and what appalled me is nobody did anything about it right away," she said. "The world has said so many times it can never happen again, so we have to do something about what is now going on in Darfur."

According to a Save Darfur Web site, since 2003, rebels in Darfur have taken up arms to protect their communities against government-backed militias recruited among groups of Arab descent in Darfur and Chad. Over the past year, these Janjaweed militias have received government support to clear civilians from areas considered disloyal to the Sudanese government.

As a result, 400,000 people have died, 2.5 million have been displaced and more than 200,000 have fled across the border to Chad, according to the Save Darfur Web site.

Wearing green T-shirts that read "Don't Condone Murder by Keeping Quiet," the students stopped passers-by to inform them about Darfur and asked if they would sign the petition. They also waved posters with the messages "Not Another Rwanda" and "Act Now Before More Are Killed."

Kathryn Allen of San Marcos said she was happy to see teenagers trying to make a difference.

"I think it's amazing that they care," Allen said after signing the petition. "It reminds me of the '60s. You don't often hear about the good kids and the good work they do."

Fermin Rajunov drove his 17-year-old daughter, Katina, to the event and said he was proud of her for giving up a Sunday afternoon.

"I'm pleased to see our children are making such an effort to do something about what is going on in the world," Rajunov said. "We all have to pressure the president to make sure the United Nations knows what's going on in Darfur."

Arar believes there is a benefit for people to see Jewish and Muslim students volunteering together to educate the community about Darfur.

"It will bring home the point we're making for peace," he said. "We all have a responsibility for each other."

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