School’s In For The Sudanese


The Israeli government is joining with a half-dozen Jewish organizations to provide educational aid for displaced and orphaned Sudanese children.

The coalition was to present $100,000 this week to the Jewish Coalition for Sudan Relief to benefit some 18,000 refugees from Sudan living in the Kashuni refugee camp in northeast Chad.

More than half the refugees are children, said Ruth Messinger, president of the American Jewish World Service, who was to announce the grant Wednesday with Israel’s consul general here, Arye Mekel, and other leaders.

“The money will be used for both formal and informal education,” Messinger said in a phone interview Tuesday from Boston. “The International Relief Committee runs three schools [in Kashuni] with more than 4,600 children.”

The grant will allow relief workers to provide textbooks and teachers for basic grade school education and literacy in Sudanese, as well as offer counseling for those who have suffered from trauma in the Darfur region.

The government-backed Janjaweed has waged a systematic campaign in the region against civilians belonging to the Fur, Masaalit and Zaghawa ethnic tribes. The persecution is aimed at weakening rebels who belong to those groups.

Some 1.6 million Sudanese have been murdered, raped, enslaved or displaced. About 200,000 have found haven in nearby Chad.

Messinger said the Jewish coalition chose to provide educational funds for the refugees because other relief agencies have focused on food, shelter and medicine.

“One of the huge challenges facing these refugees is that there is nothing for the children to do,” said Messinger. “They are bored, which leads to depression, acting out and nonconstructive activities.”

Many of the children, she added, have taken on adult responsibilities caring for family members because their parents are dead, missing or incapacitated.

The coalition consists of the American Jewish World Service, the Commission on Social Action of the Union for Reform Judaism, UJA-Federation of New York, the Jewish Coalition for Emergency Relief and the United Jewish Communities of MetroWest New Jersey. The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee will administer the aid.

Mekel said his government was following the events in Darfur “closely and with great concern,” and that “the government of Israel feels the need to be a partner with the Jewish organizations in providing this support. We hope our contribution will help alleviate to some extent the suffering of those children who were victims of this violence.”

Liz Jaffe, chair of UJA-Federation’s Commission on the Jewish People, said the Jewish community must not ignore images of refugees fleeing persecution.

“We care about how people live and survive around the world,” said Jaffe. “We also realize the bigger picture of looking at a genocide, and while everyone seems upset the world is silent. We as the Jewish community cannot possibly stay silent.”

Jewish organizations have taken great pains to be at the forefront of relief efforts in Sudan, participating heavily in rallies and fund-raising. They have also become part of an uneasy alliance in the Save Darfur Coalition, which includes Muslim-American groups that have been hostile to Israel.

Many Jewish leaders have said calling attention to the crisis in Sudan trumps other concerns.

“I have not heard these issues raised in a particularly dramatic way recently,” Messinger said. “Some of the organizations are doing their own proposals. The important thing is that there is still significant organization across the entire Jewish spectrum working on the Sudan issue.”

Messinger said about $1 million has been raised in the Jewish community for Sudan relief in the past year.