It started with educational videos on the school announcements. Later, it was asking classmates to donate, just chipping in a few dollars at a time.
And now, two years after senior Melissa Barber helped bring a Students Taking Action Now: Darfur (STAND) chapter to Arcadia High School’s campus, the Arcadia community has raised nearly $30,000 to help victims of the Sudanese genocide.
Barber, who serves as president of Arcadia’s STAND club and Arizona coordinator for similar groups across the state, first learned about the genocide in Darfur in teacher Heather Demmons’ history class. Inspired by those lessons, Barber and her classmates decided to do something.
“No one really knew what Darfur was going into this, what was going on,” Barber said. “Once people know, once people’s eyes are opened to the injustice around the world, we as humans are inclined to do something about it.”
The STAND club created video announcements and banners and talked to classmates to raise awareness. They later asked for money, getting Arcadia’s dance students to perform a yearly benefit concert, asking students to forgo coffee and other luxury items for a few days and instead donate that extra cash to the yearly DarfurFast, even getting local businesses to sponsor matching grants for some of their fundraisers.
Humanitarian efforts are more than a school project for Barber. Inspired by her parents’ volunteer work at home, she’s been on two church mission trips to the Dominican Republic and one to Uganda.
“Going there and getting your hands dirty is the best way to get your heart connected to a cause,” she said. “Places like Darfur are more than a cause. They’re humanity.”
And while Barber found that humanity interacting with people on her first trip to the Dominican Republic, one of the images that sticks with her most is a woman she met in Uganda. As they walked down the street one day, Barber and her group were ushered into a house about the size of a bathroom to meet a woman who was dying of AIDS.
“I was sitting right next to her just shocked by the whole scenario,” Barber said. “We just grabbed her hand and started smiling with her. I think that’s what she wanted, because we couldn’t physically heal her.”
After graduating this spring, Barber plans to spend six months in South Africa working with a group that runs an AIDS relief center, a crisis pregnancy center and a food distribution service.
After that, she hopes to attend Moody Bible Institute in Chicago to pursue a world missions and global studies degree.
Barber pointed out you don’t have to travel overseas to help those in need; even blocking out a Saturday morning for volunteer work can help.
“Often the big thing is we’ll think, 'Oh someone else will do it,’ ” Barber said. “But as humans, we’re all to care about Africa and we’re all to care about the orphans.”