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April 11. 2013 12:50PM

Holocaust lesson - Sophomores host humanitarian organization symposium


Keynote Speaker Stephan Lewy, a Holocaust survivor who lives in Manchester, spoke at Pembroke Academy on April 5. When asked why is he willing to bring back unpleasant memories, he replied,”Firstly, my generation is getting older – there are fewer and fewer survivors to tell their stories. Secondly, our stories show what can happened if people do not act. Perhaps if enough people hear my story, history will not repeat itself. I only hope that the world has learned a lesson.” (Leslie Thomas Photo)

Aimed at increasing global awareness within the sophomore class, Pembroke Academy English teachers Rachel Berger and Rene Paquette created a symposium of humanitarian organizations on Friday, April 5.

The event tied into the students’ current World Literature unit which covers the Holocaust and genocide. The symposium was geared specifically for the sophomore class.

“With freshmen getting so much attention starting high school and the juniors and seniors getting prepared for college, we just felt that the sophomores sometimes get left out,” said Paquette.
“The idea for this event started when I realized the Lantos Organization was located in Concord. Then the event turned into having speakers, inviting nonprofit groups, having the students take workshops, and also making a donation to a charitable cause,” she said.

Students were encouraged to research a specific humanitarian organization and decide whether they thought the group should be invited; final approval was sent to Headmaster Michael Reardon.

Sophomores signed up for workshops and were asked to bring in $1 each to donate as a class. Student Danny Vargas said former California Congressmen Tom Lantos was the first and only Holocaust survivor to serve in Congress and was an advocate for human rights.

“The Lantos Foundation donates to many other human rights programs, so we decided to donate our money to them,” he said.

“There is a lot of planning involved! I didnt realize that putting on an event like this would require so much organizing,” said student Lyla Boyajian.

Three keynote speakers attended: Stephen Lewy of Manchester, Holocaust survivor; Katrina Swett, chairman of International Committee on Religious Freedom; and Subash Acharya, a Nepali refugee who resides in Concord.

After presentations to the students, there was time set aside for a Q&A session. Then students broke into small groups and attended workshops put on by various humanitarian organizations. The workshop topics centered around problems that each group focuses on and how their group combats those problems. Other subject matter focused on why there is a need for rights, the importance of volunteerism, games, and involvement in the area and around the globe.

Class President Drew Dustin mentioned that his honors English class read a true story called “Night’,” about a young boy’s account of his life in a concentration camp.

“We learned the process of bearing witness,” he said. “It feels like you survived it, so you become a witness. And therefore you need to tell the story and carry it on, so that others know of its importance to you and how important it should be to them as well.”

“By bringing these humanitarian and human right organizations together and for those that bear witness to the events of the Holocaust, we are trying to promote awareness,” said Boyajian. “We can get people in our class aware of things going on around the world. Some people may know that bad things are going on and now they are given access to organizations if they want to help. They can learn what to do if they want to try and change that.”

“We also discovered African cultures and learned different aspects on life. It was cool to see the contrast of the different tribes,” said Meghan Smith.

Booths and workshops were set up by Invisible Children, Friends of Rachel Club, Red Cross, Lutheran Social Services, UNICEF and the Lantos Foundation.

Vargas described his passion for the UNICEF’s video called “Not My Life,” which is about human trafficking.

“I think that is the worst thing in the world and I’m interested in helping to stop that,” he said.

“One workshop that excited me is a video that shows people going down to South America and teaching kids how to play baseball instead of soccer,” said Sophomore Senate member Erica Doucet. “Because during the cholera epidemic, many kids are malnourished and baseball requires less energy. I love donating my time and helping kids, so that’s why that workshop interests me.”


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