Editor's Note: Rachel Siegel is the co-founder and co-president of the Students4Students Project whose mission is to spread the gift of education by building rural schoolhouses in developing countries. In this guest blog post, Siegal discusses Students4Students’ efforts to support education in Darfuri refugee camps through the Darfur Dream Team Sister Schools Program and the inspiration behind their work.
Students4Students, or S4S—a group I helped found and currently serve as co-president of at Yavneh Academy in Dallas, Texas—set the ambitious goal this year to raise $17,000 for Darfuri refugee education. We partnered with Jewish World Watch and the Darfur Dream Team Sister Schools Program to meet this goal and support education needs in Goz Amer refugee camp located in eastern Chad.
Goz Amer is located more than 7,000 miles from Dallas and has nearly 6,000 students enrolled in its six primary schools. Though the task of raising $17,000 seemed daunting at first, S4S has come a long way since our founding and we are well on our way toward raising this year’s goal.
S4S originated in 2009, following a presentation given to our class by Dr. Rick Hodes who had travelled to Ethiopia in the late 1980s and was struck by the overwhelming lack of healthcare available there. He established a free clinic in the capital city, Addis Ababa, and over the years has brought nearly a dozen orphans in need of life-changing operations to the U.S. for medical treatment. What really struck my classmates and me, though, was when Dr. Hodes asked, “Did you know that over 80 percent of Ethiopian children will never have access to an education?”
As he spoke, our school’s newly completed chapel and gardens glowed behind him and I began to understand how lucky we are. While I had always known that proper schooling was something too many in the world were forced to go without, this statistic made me realize that I was no more deserving of an education than the boys and girls who Dr. Hodes described. I became much more aware of my education as a gift. I began to brainstorm ways to best express my appreciation for having received the gift of education, and I set out to share it with others.
My classmates and I wanted to put this exciting dream into action, so we connected with an organization supporting schools in Ethiopia and established Students4Students to raise funds for a school. At the time, we had no money in the bank and only a few ideas about how to raise a significant amount of money, but we were determined. Today, we can proudly say that in the last year, the Sera Warka Satellite School in Gondor, Ethiopia, has welcomed nearly 100 new and eager students to the one-room concrete structure, which is at maximum capacity and thriving.
This year, with more fundraising experience under our belts, we chose to support a Darfuri refugee school in eastern Chad through Darfur Dream Team. We recently held our first fundraising event at a popular movie theater in downtown Dallas. We screened the documentary film “3 Points,” which follows NBA star and DDT co-founder Tracy McGrady’s journey to the Darfuri refugee camps and the origins of the DDT Sister Schools Program. The film lends a glimpse into the lives of the young and old refugees, who were forced to flee their homes during the Darfur conflict. It also highlights the need for continued and increased educational support in the camps. Following the film, five of Dallas’ own Sudanese Lost Boys shared their stories of struggle and survival with the attendees. The screening raised more than $2,600 for education in Goz Amer camp.
Members of Students4Students feel so fortunate to have families and community members who lead by example and who have taught us that no dream is too big. The world is big enough to give rise to innumerable conflicts and problems, but small enough for us to help mend them, brick by brick. Supported by our generous community and encouraged by our incredible school, we are nearing our goal every day. I am beginning to feel the same butterflies felt when I first realized our dreams were becoming reality, and must admit…I love the feeling.
Rachel Siegel is a high school junior at Yavneh Academy in Dallas, Texas. She is the co-founder and co-president of the Students4Students Project.
Photo: Students4Students board at the screening of "3 Points" in Dallas.