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Student group shows compassion to refugees

Written on January 7th, 2008

[caption id=”attachment_3465” align=”aligncenter” width=”300”]BlanketsFS Students Karin and Becky carry blankets that will be sent to
refugees in Sudan.[/caption]

Blanket campaign opens dialogue for global issues

Hamilton Christian District High School (HCDH) student Annette Hamilton keeps her eyes open to suffering around the world and hopes to make a difference, such as through her school’s recent Blankets to Darfur campaign.

Hamilton, 16, is a member of the school’s WATCH group (Working at Teaching Children Hope). During November, the group organized a campaign encouraging students to donate blankets for Sudanese refugees.

Fourteen of the group’s members delivered over 180 blankets to the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) facilities in Kitchener. The MCC will help distribute the blankets.

Doug Schulz, an English teacher and teacher sponsor of WATCH, explains there were a few things that led up to the formation of the group. In 2006, Grade 11 students started to read the novel The Kite Runner. The novel sparked the student’s interest in Afghanistan.

After reading the novel Schulz asked his students how the school could help Afghan refugees. The students gave creative answers and Schulz suggested they form a group.

In March 2007, Schulz helped to organize an Afghanistan Focus Day. The day featured different workshops and 100 students participated in a simulated refugee camp.

Canadian Forces Major Lawrence Hatfield, who had just returned from a tour of duty in Afghanistan, spoke at the Afghanistan Focus Day and challenged the students to do something to help the Afghani school children.

A month later, around seven students expressed interest to form what would become the WATCH group. At the time they called themselves Watch: Afghanistan, and started having meetings to discuss issues and how they could respond.

In June, the group challenged the rest of the school to help bring in backpacks filled with school supplies for Afghani students. The project, says Schulz, was a very practical and tangible way for students to respond with Christian compassion and get involved. The group donated 75 backpacks. (Read more here)

When the group re-formed in September, members decided to expand its reach globally, which was reflected in the group’s new name, WorldWideWATCH. Members looked through a MCC brochure and the blanket project captured their interest.

The WATCH group also doubled in numbers, with about 16 students who are now members.

“(The students) focus together on the common cause of something they see is a good thing to do, and that they can actually personally touch the world through,” says Schulz.

The blanket campaign was launched Nov. 9. The response was even greater than the backpacks, with the goal of 100 blankets passed with over 180 donated.

“Some of my friends in little groups got together, raised some money and then went to a store to get some blankets,” says Hamilton.

When the WATCH members went to the MCC in Kitchener they saw the large warehouses of donated supplies and how the blankets are compacted for easier transporting. “It was nice to see where the blankets were going before they got shipped out, to know they were actually going, it’s actually making a difference,” says Hamilton.

The students helped package disaster relief kits, and heard about some of the other MCC projects. This gave the students some perspective of how their contributions fit into the “bigger picture of compassion.”

Schulz says the blanket campaign was used as a launch point to discuss other issues. While writing an article for the newsletter Schulz interviewed staff and students to ask how they felt about the blanket campaign, does the school do enough to respond to world needs and how do they prevent themselves from succumbing to compassion fatigue.

“There were some great responses that came out of that,” says Schulz. “In a nutshell, the response in general was we need to keep doing this, we also need to be selective, it has to be personal, people shouldn’t be pressured or guilt tripped into it and as a school you have to balance what we are there for academically with the fact that we also have Christian mission and it’s important to keep these kind of things in mind.”

Another school group is called MADPIG (Making a Difference Political Involvement Group) and focuses on local and Canadian needs and awareness. Harry Meester, the school’s director of recruitment and advancement, sponsors the group and gave a presentation to WATCH just before Christmas break.

The presentation was about how to respond to world need that leads to actions of compassion and charitable giving and how to have an informed perspective to address policy makers about the root of the problems. Schulz says this is something he has challenged the WATCH executive to consider.