Students at New Roots present humanitarian law campaigns

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Jane is nine years old. Her village is caught in the middle of a brutal war between the government and the rebel fighters. Her father was killed in battle and she must support her mother and five younger siblings. She is forced to join the military and fight the rebels. She is a child soldier.

Jane is not real, per se, but she represents countless real children in conflict-ridden nations around the world. Jane’s story was written and acted out by students at New Roots Charter School in Ithaca as part of their International Humanitarian Action Campaign, supported by the American Red Cross.

Hard work and planning paid off

Students taking Spanish 3-5 classes at New Roots designed and facilitated the program last week, under the direction of teacher Maria Gimma.

“It was amazing, the amount of research that went into this and the way the kids reacted to it,” Gimma said.

Four student leaders were selected to receive training from the Red Cross in order for them to effectively facilitate the campaign, which included scavenger hunt simulations, such as the interactive performance of Jane’s story, and games. The campaign’s goal was to raise awareness about global issues relating to child soldiers and international justice.

The entire student body of New Roots participated in the activities. Soren Mortensen, one of the student leaders of the campaign, said at first the participants seemed skeptical about the simulation, but eventually they came around.

“By the end, they were saying it was great,” Mortensen said of the students who took part in the scavenger hunt. “I think they really learned a lot from it and I think they enjoyed it.”

Gimma said she was pleased with the reception to the campaign, as well.

“As the day went on, the students were more and more engaged with some of the programs,” Gimma said. “I saw a lot of smiles and I even saw a couple of tears because they were so moved by some of things they saw.”

Past success spurs present motivation

New Roots students created their first action campaign last year, which was extremely successful, and landed them a spot in a Red Cross symposium in Washington, D.C.

“Their [the New Roots students’] campaign is being used to train people internationally about humanitarian law,” Gimma said.

Gimma said the students hope this year’s campaign will impress the Red Cross enough for them to be invited back to the symposium. Julie Mucilli, the Red Cross’ Regional Youth and Young Adult Volunteer Manager said she was impressed by the work of the students this year.

“Mrs. Gimma’s Spanish classes at New Roots have worked hard on their IHL Action Campaign for the past few months and it really showed today!” Mucilli said immediately following the event.

Going bilingual

The New Roots students are unique in that they will present their campaign again next week, but in Spanish this time. According to Mucilli, New Roots is the only school in the country to create a bilingual campaign. Gimma said doing it in Spanish allows her students to get hands-on practice with the language, while providing a service for Spanish-speaking community members who wish to learn about humanitarian law.

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