10th Annual Human Rights Conference at Kean Connects Students with Their Hero
Students from three states meet Water for South Sudan’s Salva Dut
Students and educators from New Jersey, Connecticut and Texas came face-to-face with their human rights hero, Salva Dut, the founder and senior advisor for Water for South Sudan, at the 10th Annual Human Rights Conference at Kean University on Friday, March 24. Dut was a featured speaker at the conference, which examined the global water crisis.
The students, from Samuel Ridgway Middle School in Edgewater Park and Bradley Beach Elementary School in New Jersey, Pumpkin Delight Elementary School in Milford, Connecticut, and Memorial Middle School in Houston,Texas, were all inspired by Dut. They had read Linda Sue Park's book, A Long Walk to Water, which tells the true story of Dut's experience as a “lost boy" of South Sudan and wanted to support his cause. They held fundraisers, and at the conference, presented Dut with donations to Water for South Sudan.
“We read the book with our fifth graders and we just wanted to see where that would lead,” said Candi Schwartz from Samuel Ridgway Middle School. “They wanted to give South Sudan their water, so we formed a committee and over 82 fifth graders joined. We met weekly and brainstormed ideas and fundraised, and we’re just really, really excited to have been here.”
Sixth grade students at Memorial Middle School in Houston,Texas were represented by their teacher, Kathi Cossey.
“In three days we raised over $800, and $77 was just in change!” Cossey said.
At Bradley Beach Elementary School, three girls in Sandy Delopoulos’ sixth grade class wanted to help.
“Our school is really small, and we’re always doing fundraisers, so they set a realistic goal of $100 and they ended up making $150,” said Delopoulos. “They were excited to reach their goal. I presented the check, a picture and a letter to Dut at the HRI conference.”
The students from Pumpkin Delight Elementary School pledged to raise $1,000, and from January to March were able to raise $2,443.
“The students really enjoyed having the opportunity to see what they have and what others don’t, and what they can do to help out,” said Geri Mezzoni, a teacher at Pumpkin Delight. “They still want to do more and are coming up with more fundraising ideas.”
Meeting Dut was an exciting experience for the teachers and students who were given the opportunity to have a conversation with him and present their fundraiser checks to him.
“He’s a superstar in my eyes, in our sixth graders eyes,” said Cossey.
“I feel like I met a star, a great humanitarian. I was so excited to have met him,” said Delopoulos.
The Edgewater Park School District won the award for Outstanding Human Rights Student Activists. The students of Ridgway Middle School designed their own T-shirts and are continuing to sell them. They are also hosting a Crowdrise campaign and continuing to collect donations in a mock water well they constructed at the school. Their goal is to raise $16,000––enough to build a new “Iron Giraffe” drill and a water well––before they leave for high school. The students and their teachers gave Dut an initial donation of $1,800 for Water for South Sudan.
"When I hugged him, I was the happiest girl in the world!” said Rana, a student from Ridgway Middle School. “He was talking to us about water in South Sudan, and when we gave him the check he was surprised and happy. It was the best day ever!"
All the schools plan to continue their efforts to fundraise for Dut’s cause and for other nonprofits in the future. Dut hopes that he will hear stories decades from now about how some of these students have helped change the world with their own projects.
“I like to share my story with students to inspire them,” Dut said. “I hope that they will gain courage in whatever challenges that they are facing and, as I did, just keep walking.”