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Students work to end Sudan child abduction

The Save Yar and Ajak campaign held a fundraiser for the students’ trips to Juba, Sudan over spring break.

Yar and Ajak are the faces of a campaign that is trying to end child abduction in Sudan.

They’re the abducted nieces of University student Gabriel Solomon, who’s planning to travel to Juba, Sudan with two other students over spring break to raise awareness and research child protection agencies.

Family and friends of Solomon and others involved in the “Save Yar and Ajak” campaign gathered Saturday at Tam Tam’s African restaurant on the West Bank for a fundraiser aimed at the travel expenses Solomon, Robyn Skrebes and Kait Dougherty will need.

The fundraiser brought in enough money for one of the three plane tickets, according to Skrebes said about $11,000 will be needed to cover the three plane tickets as well as expenses for visas and meals.

The three students will need permission from the University to travel to Sudan because of the U.S. Department of State’s travel warning, Skrebes said, and because they are working with University volunteer groups.

The students emphasized in their travel proposal to the University that their point of destination will be Juba in the south and not Darfur.

“When people look at the country of Sudan, they think of Darfur,” Solomon said. “They never look at the outside boundaries and we’re hoping to educate that south Sudan is different.”

But violence in Darfur can disturb other regions of the country, said Director for the Center of Holocaust and Genocide Studies Stephen Feinstein.

“What’s happening in Darfur is destabilizing the South as well,” he said.

The students said they haven’t examined the possibility of not going and are hoping for University approval.

The purpose of the students’ trip is to meet with local nongovernmental organizations and focus on the issue of child abduction in general, but using Yar and Ajak as the lead example, said Human Rights Program Director Barbara Frey.

“The students are not going to Sudan on a rescue mission,” she said.

And although the students have worked with government officials in Washington D.C. and local officials like Amy Klobuchar, Norm Coleman and Keith Ellison to ensure security measures, Frey said they don’t have the capacity to travel to Sudan for the sole purpose of rescuing the girls.

Frey added that the group set realistic and secure expectations for the trip with evacuation plans, registration at the consulate, cell phones and help from Solomon’s family.

By gathering information from Sudan and reporting the findings when they return, Frey said the students can then continue to design appropriate strategies to improve child protection in southern Sudan.

Since the civil war ended in 2005, the child abduction issue in southern Sudan has been ignored, Skrebes said.

“We plan to use the research as leverage to increase our ability to work on behalf of families of children who’ve been abducted,” Skrebes said.

And one of those families is Solomon’s family.

“I want my nieces back,” Solomon said.

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