By Kristina Houck
After learning about the genocides in Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo in his eighth-grade Jewish studies class, Zander Cowan wanted to do something to help. Now a junior at San Diego Jewish Academy, Zander is once again organizing a walk to raise awareness, support and hope for survivors of genocide.
“We want to bring across a powerful, yet positive message about spreading genocide awareness,” said 17-year-old Zander. He and his classmates, Ilana Engel and Naomi Suminski, are planning the third annual Walk to End Genocide on March 23 at Nobel Park in La Jolla.
More than 6 million people have lost their lives to the genocide and mass atrocities in Sudan and DRC, according to Jewish World Watch, which is sponsoring the walk.
After studying the Holocaust and learning about ongoing genocides in eighth grade, Zander and his fellow students raised $1,700 for JWW by selling blue rubber bracelets stamped with the words “Decide to End Genocide.”
“We said, ‘We’re not just going to sit around and get really upset about this issue,’” he recalled. “We wanted to do something about it.”
As freshmen, Zander, Ilana and Naomi organized the first walk at their campus. The inaugural walk had 100 walkers and raised $5,000 for JWW.
Last year, the trio expanded their efforts by reaching out to other high schools and religious institutions. About 175 walkers raised $7,500 during the second annual walk at Ocean Air Community Park in Carmel Valley.
“Genocide is not just a one religion, one race issue. It affects a broad base of faiths and ethnicities,” Zander said. “We reached out to church groups and other ethnic groups and clubs. That’s how the walk grew.”
With Congresswoman Susan Davis as honorary walk chair this year, organizers hope to raise $10,000 and increase participation to 300 walkers.
Davis or a representative from her office is scheduled to speak. Other speakers are still being confirmed, Zander said.
Proceeds will fund JWW programs. Founded in 2004, the nonprofit organization educates others about genocide, and establishes relief and development projects to empower and alleviate the suffering of survivors.
Women and girls who have fled the genocide in Darfur, Sudan, are particularly vulnerable to rape while collecting firewood for cooking. One of JWW’s projects equips refugee women with solar cookers so they can use energy from the sun to heat meals and avoid the often dangerous walks to collect firewood.
It costs $40 to supply one family with two solar cookers. The cookers will be on display during the walk.
“It’s really exciting because you sow the seed that’s your idea. It can only be grown and nurtured and turn into this tree after a bunch of other people have embraced it,” Zander said about the walk. “It gives me hope to see a lot of other people are passionate and as engaged in this as I am.”
The event will take place from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. March 23 at Nobel Park, located at 8810 Judicial Drive in La Jolla. Registration includes a T-shirt and costs $20 for adults, $15 for students and $5 for children ages 5-11. Children 4 and younger walk for free.
This year’s event will include two one-mile walks at 10:30 a.m. and 1:15 p.m. Beginning at 11 a.m., a rally and action fair will feature informational booths and hands-on projects.
One of the projects is SDJA’s butterfly project. Through the educational art program, the school aims to create 1.5 million ceramic butterflies to represent the number of Jewish children killed by the Nazis during World War II.
“The walk is a local grassroots student-led event,” Zander said. “It would be great to get as much local support as possible.”
For more information and to register for the walk, visit walktoendgenocide.org.
To learn more about Jewish World Watch, visit jewishworldwatch.org.