San Diego Jewish Academy students invite all to participate in ‘Walk to End Genocide’ April 7

SDJA students Zander Cowan (right) Naomi Suminski (center) and Ilana Engel (left) are planning the Walk to End Genocide at Ocean Air Park on April 7. Courtesy photo
SDJA students Zander Cowan (right) Naomi Suminski (center) and Ilana Engel (left) are planning the Walk to End Genocide at Ocean Air Park on April 7. Courtesy photo

By Karen Billing

San Diego Jewish Academy sophomore Zander Cowan is working to organize his Second Annual Walk to End Genocide at Ocean Air Community Park in Carmel Valley on Sunday, April 7, from 9 a.m. to noon. The one-mile walk aims to raise awareness, support and hope for the survivors of genocide in Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Almost six million people have lost their lives to the genocide and mass atrocities in Sudan and Congo. More than three million people have been displaced from their villages in Sudan and 200,000 people are surviving in refugee camps in Chad. An estimated 45,000 people die each month in Congo.

The one mile walk is sponsored by and will support Jewish World Watch (JWW) and is being planned by a philanthropic young team of SDJA sophomores: Zander, Naomi Suminski and Ilana Engel.

Zander and his classmates first learned about JWW in the eighth grade, after a presentation on the genocide in Congo and Sudan in his Jewish studies class. Zander said the whole class was inspired to help and sold blue rubber bracelets stamped with the words “Decide to End Genocide”; they were able to raise $1,700.

“It really hit home at our school. Since (genocide) has happened to us, I feel like it’s my job to help those who can’t be helped,” said Zander, whose grandmother hid in an attic for four years during the Holocaust. “It’s an issue that’s close to home and we should try to help the world, especially in regard to genocide.”

Zander took his cue from JWW’s rallying call: “Fight genocide,

we cannot stand idly by.”

Last year as freshman, Zander and Naomi felt like they wanted to take their fundraising efforts up to the next level and approached JWW about organizing a walk on the SDJA campus. Their first effort had 100 walkers last year and raised $5,000.

“We took our experiences last year and decided to make [the walk] bigger, reaching out to the community as a whole,” Zander said.

Their goal is to raise over $2,500 and have about 250 people walking with them. Zander has reached out to other high schools, such as The Bishop’s School and Santa Fe Christian, churches and mosques and JWW believes this walk, one of five throughout California, will be the most inter-racial and inter-religious event in the state.

Money raised at the walk will go to JWW to fund programs that not only provide relief but aim to restore dignity and help develop skills and opportunities to improve communities in Sudan and Congo, such as providing education to children in the refugee camps.

As women and girls are some of the most vulnerable in Sudan and Congo, JWW has created a rape and crisis center for women and provides training in small livestock and animal husbandry as a way to earn a living and rebuild their lives.

Zander said he learned that a high percentage of women and girls in Congo are raped—nearly 48 women every hour. Many of the incidents occur when the women must go into the forest to gather firewood to warm and feed their families. One of JWW’s projects is a solar cooker project—$18 can buy a solar cooker for a family in Congo, which keeps women from having to venture off into the forest and potentially, be victimized.

At the April 7 event, they will have solar cookers on display and people will be able to make potholders for the women, a project JWW has taken on in the past.

“The first shipment of pot holders they sent, the women didn’t know what they were for and put them on display because they thought they were pretty,” Zander said. “Once they found out what they were for, they were really touched that we care about things like we don’t want them to burn their hands.”

Other hands-on projects at the walk will be an opportunity to write a letter to genocide survivors and as April 7 is Holocaust Remembrance Day, participants will also be able to participate in SDJA’s butterfly project, their mission to create 1.5 million ceramic butterflies to memorialize the number of children killed during the Holocaust.

The event will also feature a presentation from Holocaust survivor Dr. Edith Eger, as well as a speech by a La Jolla Country Day School student who is from Darfur and a dance with her African dance troop.

Zander is planning this walk in addition to a busy school schedule and being a member of a rowing crew at Mission Bay.

“It’s a lot on top of school and sports but it’s my passion,” said Zander. “It’s a tight schedule but while I can, I want to give my time to charity now so when I’m older I can give money when I have it.”

While there will be event-day registration, Zander is encouraging people to sign up online. Registration is $18 for adults and teens 12 and older, and participants receive a t-shirt. Children 11 and under walk for free but all must be registered. Register at