Volume 19 | Issue 27 | November 17 - 23, 2006

Downtown school joins Broadway stars for Darfur benefit

By Lori Haught

The students at Elisabeth Irwin High School felt called to action when they started learning about the genocide in Darfur, Sudan.

And after employing Broadway stars at two successful benefits for tsunami relief and Hurricane Katrina, they knew just how to answer the call.

On Nov. 20, performers including Tshidi Manye of the “Lion King”; Frenchie Davis of “Dreamgirls,” “Rent,” and “American Idol” fame; Saygon Senghbloh from “Wicked” and “Aida;” and others will present a cabaret at the school. All proceeds will go to Oxfam America, a multi-national group of non-government organizations.

School principal Ruth Jurgensen said that the school chose Oxfam because of the event’s proximity to Oxfam’s annual Skip-a-Meal fast on Nov. 16. Each year around the Thanksgiving holiday, participants nationwide skip a meal on a designated day and donate the money saved to Oxfam to help end world hunger.

“We wanted to do something bigger than just give donations for meals,” Jurgensen said.

Sophomore Violeta Picayo led the efforts for this year’s benefit. She said that her classmates had been considering what cause they could focus on this year. Because students attended the Washington D.C. and the Central Park events about Darfur earlier this year and speakers came to the school to speak on the genocide, Darfur was a good fit.

“It’s not just a relief effort; there is a war going on,” Picayo said. “ I think [the benefit] is a good opportunity for people to learn what’s going on.”

The main goal of the benefit is to spread awareness. As many as 450,000 people have been killed in the conflict between the Janjaweed, a militia group recruited from the camel-herding tribe Abbala, and the non-Baggara people, made up mostly of land-tilling tribes.

While the government of Sudan denies involvement in the conflict, they have donated weapons and supplies to the Janjaweed, which have helped them to eradicate villages and sustain the war. The United States recognized the genocide more than two years ago, but the U.S. and the United Nations have yet to intervene.

“We said never again,” Picayo said. “We want to stop it while we have the opportunity.”

Although the subject matter is disturbing, the event itself will be enjoyable.

“It’s sort of ironic that we have such a good time while raising money for something so devastating,” Jurgensen said. “If people knew the kind of event they had the opportunity to see, they would be amazed. We are very lucky that so many performers are willing to spend their day off with us.”

The event will be held at 6:30 p.m. in the school auditorium at 40 Charlton St., between Sixth Ave. and Varick St. Guests can enter with a donation of $20 or more. Fifty dollars is the suggested donation amount.

“We encourage people from all communities to come and take what they learn from this event and take it to other people,” Picayo said.

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