- The Washington Times - Friday, April 6, 2007

By Brendan Wong, age 11

Luxmanor Elementary School, Rockville

On March 31, I interviewed four eighth-graders from Elm Place School in Highland Park, Ill., who are part of a grand project called Reach for Change.

Reach for Change is all about raising awareness and knowledge about the genocide in Darfur, Sudan, where about 400,000 people have been killed and 2 million displaced.

These four 13- to 14-year-olds — Elena Voronenko, Ian Iyengar, Julia Webb and Mika Hasak — hope to gather 400,000 decorated paper dolls to honor those lost lives.

According to these students, the project began during their year in seventh grade, after they learned about the Holocaust and other genocides throughout history. Two Elm Place students, Andrew Leaf and Elizabeth Kapnick, decided that these occurrences in the world should be recognized, and they started Reach for Change.

The committee for this project consists of 20 eighth-graders with help from teachers, parents and their community. Also, these students have gained support from 30 states with letters, e-mails, and phone calls.

I asked Elena, Ian, Julia and Mika about some of their personal experiences while working on this project. Elena spoke about how the committee has gone to different schools and shared the project with teachers, along with paper dolls and information.

Ian told me about their involvement in city council and school board meetings, along with having a Reach for Change theme song — “With My Two Hands,” by Ben Harper.

Julia spoke of their outreach in their community — going to local shops and restaurants and speaking to children and families about Reach for Change and the awareness of genocide, specifically what’s happening in Sudan.

Mika also said they have met with a local radio show and television show called “Maury Robinson’s Journal.”

The Reach for Change committee even has had a conference call with Mia Farrow and received a “good luck” basket from Ellen DeGeneres.

Most important, these students have shown that even ordinary teenagers can make a change in the world by promoting awareness and educating many around them. Even one person can make a difference, enabling inspiration and hope to spread.

Also, they say that they’ve experienced personal growth and found fulfillment by participating in Reach for Change.

The goal of the project is to collect 400,000 dolls by June; so far, the project has approximately 52,000 dolls. This was supposed to be a one-year project, to end at graduation time, but these eighth-graders are passing the torch to the upcoming eighth-grade class.

These students have spent much time and energy to promote awareness and knowledge, not for a teacher or grade, but for the world. Please log on to their Web site to print out a paper doll, decorate it and send it in. Every doll counts.


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