- The Washington Times - Monday, March 23, 2009

Students at a Northern Virginia high school are trying to draw national attention to the genocide in the Darfur region of Sudan - one step at a time.

The students - mostly from the international relations class at Briar Woods High School in Ashburn, Va. - hope to collect 400,000 pairs of shoes, each representing a person killed in the violence in Darfur, in time to display them on the Mall on April 26.

“A lot of times, change comes from the students,” said Logan Williams, a 10th-grade teacher who started and runs the project.

Miss Williams said the project has spawned nearly 100 shoe drives, collecting about 5,000 pairs of shoes from as far away as Texas, Hawaii and New Zealand.

To promote the drive, Briar Woods sophomore Edward Rinehart contacted his church, Oak Grove Baptist in Sterling, and a nearby middle school.

Oak Groveresponded by putting a notice in the church bulletin asking parishioners to help.

“I have more than 100 shoes from them,” Edward said. “And I’m still bringing them in. It’s a good cause.”

He also has contacted the NBA for help, but has yet to get a response.

Sophomore Rahul Gogia said he is adamant about getting the community involved.

“I think that 400,000 pairs is going to leave a pretty big impact on the people who see it,” he said.

Miss Williams said the project has a federal permit. and the plan is to ring the Reflecting Pool with the shoes.

“Our hope is that the image will be hard to ignore,” the students’ mission statement says.

Sophomore Stephanie Carroll is reaching out to her church, Christian Fellowship in Ashburn, for contributions from the youth group and congregation.

Stephanie said some people have already dropped off shoes on her porch.

“We tend to just look at are own problems, such as the economy,” she said. “But it’s good to look on the inside as well as on the outside.”

Briar Woods has more than 50 partners in the immediate region, from elementary and high schools to retirement center and universities, including Virginia Tech and the College of William & Mary.

The shoes will be donated to homeless shelters after the display in April.

The conflict in Darfur, which began in February 2003 as an ethnic and tribal struggle, has escalated into an international humanitarian crisis.

The region has witnessed mass killings, rape and looting in the six-year conflict.

By summer 2004, 50,000 to 80,000 people had died. By September 2006, U.N. officials said more than 400,000 people had died. In April, the United Nations announced that it may have underestimated that number by 50 percent.

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