Carter Wilkinson was just a freshman at Bozeman High School when a research paper for his English class got him interested in the genocide occurring in the African region of Darfur.
Now Wilkinson, the Bozeman High Student Council and Interact Club are trying to do something to help by raising money for the tens of thousands of Darfur refugees.
Wilkinson, 16, a junior, said today's humanitarian crisis for refugees, living in squalid conditions on the border between Sudan and Chad, is just as great as when the native African villagers were targeted for mass slaughter by Arab janjaweed militias.
"It's a conflict the world has forgotten about, or many of us in the United States have," Wilkinson said. "I get sort of passionate about humanitarian issues. After hearing about the victims, over and over, it was debilitating almost. It made me feel bad and want to do something."
An estimated 400,000 people were killed, he said, and today millions of refugees have fled to neighboring Chad, where United Nations camps are overwhelmed and people are dying of malnutrition and disease.
Students have placed donation buckets to collect money around the high school and are holding a competition to see which class - juniors, seniors, sophomores or freshmen -- can raise the most by Friday's deadline. A fundraising fun run last Saturday raised $800 that will be split between Darfur and a local charity, and Wilkinson gave a talk and showed a video last week for about 100 students to explain the conflict.
On Tuesday, Wilkinson visited the Bozeman Noon Rotary Club to ask the 60 adult members to support the effort by the Rotary-backed high school Interact Club.
Thousands of refugees have next to nothing to survive on in the U.N. camps, Wilkinson said.
He said after he became interested in the issue in his freshman year, the next year he took a one-semester independent studies class to learn more about the conflict. This year, as secretary treasurer of the junior class and secretary of the Rotary Interact Club, he suggested the project to the club and Student Council.
Wilkinson said money raised at the high school will be sent to the UN refugee agency, UNHCR. Donations can be sent to UNHCR or to the Bozeman High Student Council for Darfur.
Gail Schontzler can be reached at email@example.com or 582-2633.