Twice a week at 7 a.m., a group of students at Roseville Area High School meet to talk about a conflict happening on the other side of the globe. They're in the Darfur Awareness Now Group, or, as the students like to call it, DANG. Sophomore Laurel Wiehe helped start the group last year, after she learned about the violence in Darfur in her geography class. Wiehe and other students in the group say they were horrified to learn about the systematic rape and murder taking place in Darfur.
"It seemed like this has happened so many times before, like in Rwanda, we had seen Hotel Rwanda, and we were all just totally shocked at that movie," Wiehe said. "And then to hear that it was happening again, and that no one was doing anything about it, we were just, I think, kind of shocked into action."
More than 200,000 people have died, according to the United Nations. Some estimates double that number. The United Nations said 2.5 million people have been displaced in the four-year-old conflict. Freshman Seema Patel said the victims in Darfur have no way to defend themselves.
"They're one of the poorest countries, they barely have enough water and food, and these people are going in, and throwing bodies in their wells, and they're losing the little stuff that they have," Patel said.
Patel said high school students may not be able to stop the genocide, but they can raise money to help the victims. Patel and the other members of DANG have already raised $8,000. They persuaded the school's student council to donate proceeds from the school's charity week to Darfur, and they've sold "Save Darfur" t-shirts and green bracelets.
They've been working for months on the April 27 fundraiser, which includes a reception, silent auction and live music. Freshman Meera Sury is one of the group's members who went to many Roseville-area stores asking for donations.
"All of us here have gone to a ridiculous number, we've gotten turned down by most of them, probably about 90 percent of them," Sury said. "But every time you do get a donation, it's a little part of you that gets added, and then it's more money that's going to Darfur, so you keep going with it."
The group's advisor, geography teacher Nick Hartle, said the students were nervous at first about approaching businesses for donations. But he said they gained confidence with every success. Hartle said they learned valuable skills as they planned the fundraiser, from research to advertising. Hartle is impressed with the students for taking the initiative to start the group, and then having the dedication to stick with it.
"The empathy that they're actually showing that they can feel for other people is amazing," said Hartle. "It's not the usual rap that teenagers get, and that's a very good thing to see." Nick Clooney agrees. Clooney is a longtime journalist who said he's become an advocate when it comes to Darfur. Clooney has been speaking out against the conflict ever since he and his son George traveled to the region a year ago. He's given dozens of speeches on the topic in schools and churches around the country. Clooney said pressure to stop the violence in Darfur is coming from concerned citizens like the students in Roseville.
"I am sure we can get this done. I know we can, and with the energy of these young people, particularly, because they don't give up. They worry at it like a dog at a bone, and they keep going, and they do what they say they'll do," Clooney said. "This is a great new generation we have here. Twenty years ago, I wouldn't have given you a nickel for every 20-year-old in the country. I was out talking about journalism, and all they wanted to know was how much they got paid as an anchor...But by golly, it's changed, we have a wonderful new generation here and I have great hopes for them."
Clooney and Rep. Betty McCollum will speak at the fundraiser at Roseville Area High School. Proceeds go to the American Refugee Committee, which is providing health care, clean water and other services to the victims in Darfur.