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It started as a classroom exercise in 2004. Danbury, Connecticut High School teacher Tim Salem was troubled by the disturbing images on the news about the strife in Darfur, Sudan.
The violence was escalating. Children were dying. And Colin Powell had just declared the situation genocide. But no one seemed to care.
One night as he watched his infant daughter sleeping peacefully, Tim couldn’t help comparing that scene to pictures of the innocent children who were suffering in Darfur.
At the time, his class was learning about the Holocaust and the promise made by the United Nations to “never again” allow genocide to happen. So Tim decided to explore the subject of hate and human rights, using Darfur as an example.
“Then I thought we should take our human rights learning and put it into action,” Tim said. So he and his students began a letter-writing campaign to government officials and celebrities. They received little response.
Undeterred, they came up with another tactic, one which aimed to turn apathy into empathy. In 2005, the students produced a documentary to raise awareness about the humanitarian crisis that was unfolding in Sudan.
Although the original group of students graduated that year, subsequent classes took up the cause, presenting the documentary to groups of people around the state, with the film picking up several awards along the way.
Over time, calls started coming in from around the country from people who had heard about the video and wanted to become involved. Volunteers ranged from Principal Rick Jones and students at North Farmington High School, in Farmington Hills, Michigan to celebrities including Mia Farrow, actress and political activist.
In 2007, Doug D’Jay of Cartus, a global relocation company headquartered in Connecticut, invited Tim and his students to make a presentation on Sudan. Cartus and its employees were so taken with the students’ zeal that they agreed to partner and fundraise with them to support the children of Sudan.
And fundraise they did! Over the next four years, a collaboration of tireless students and organizers stretching from Connecticut to Michigan, held events and raised over $130,000 to rehabilitate a primary school. After South Sudan's independence in July 2011, Save the Children decided to place this school in the conflicted border state of Unity state, South Sudan. The South Sudanese community hosting the school is home to returnees from the long civil wars between Sudan and South Sudan, and displaced children affected by the recent conflict along the border.
“We decided to call it The Promise School in honor of the promise to “never again allow genocide,” said Tim Salem. The Promise School is slated to open its doors this year. All thanks to one very caring teacher, some determined students, and one enthusiastic corporate supporter.