Students in Burbank, Chad make connection

A group of Burbank High School students had a chat with students in the Djabal refugee camp in Goz Beida, Chad, Wednesday morning — a conversation made possible via a Web cam.

It was 6:45 a.m. in Burbank, but 3:45 p.m. at the Obama School in Chad, where boys were dressed in collared shirts with vests, girls mostly in white with matching hijabs.

Isabel Navarro asked the first question: “What do you want to be when you grow up?”

When a girl on the other end of the webcast replied, “An actor,” the Burbank students giggled softly.

Founded three years ago by Burbank High senior Hannah Kolus, the club Team Paper Clips is not new to reaching out to Darfuri refugees. The club raised $2,000 for the cause last year.

The Obama School’s students are refugees from Darfur, the western region of Sudan. The conflict in Darfur began in March 2003, when Sudan’s government clashed with rebel groups, including the Janjaweed militia, which is responsible for murdering and raping thousands of civilians.

The conflict spurred more than 2.5 million people to flee their homes in Darfur, according to the United Nations, with many Darfuri refugees living in camps in Chad.

Hannah, 17, said she first learned about the conflict in Darfur when she was a seventh-grader at John Muir Middle School. Before that, she said, “I didn’t even know Sudan existed.”

Burbank High School is one of 250 American schools that has a sister school — the Obama School — through the organization Darfur Dream Team. The Obama School is one of a dozen schools in the Chad refugee camps of Goz Amer and Djabal. The webcast on Wednesday was done through the organization iACT, which uses technology to connect people to Darfuri refugees.

The conversation seemed typical for high school students meeting each other for the first time. When Navarro asked what they did for fun, a student replied, “dancing.”

Then students at the Obama School asked about Burbank High.

“We take classes like English and calculus and government and chemistry,” Navarro said.

In Goz Beida, one student said they are learning Arabic, English, math and French, in addition to “everything in our books.”

One boy said, “I want to go to America. Where should I go?” A few students replied, “Come to Burbank!”

There was also talk of sports, with students at the Obama School saying they play football and handball for fun.

Near the conversation’s end, the students in Goz Beida asked through their English translator, “Do you listen to information about Darfur?”

Kolus said they stay informed about current events through the Internet, newspapers and television.

“Our president mentioned it in speeches before,” she said. “We try to remain educated about what’s happening in Darfur right now.”

Then Kolus asked if the students thought that the South Sudan succession would affect their future.

The translator, who translated the answer to English from Arabic for the first and only time in the 15-minute conversation, said: “They agree with separation, but that it won’t affect their future.”

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