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Sunday, March 2, 2014

Just World Festival brings cultural awareness to Annandale community

Peter Ter urges Annandale HS students to give back.

Students and community members gathered at Annandale High School Friday afternoon to share cultural experiences and showcase organizations and projects aimed at creating a better world.

The highlight of the school’s Just World Festival was an inspiring talk by Peter Ter, one of the Lost Boys of Sudan, who recounted his journey from poverty and illiteracy in a refugee camp to graduate school at a top American university.

Annandale High School junior Qianqian Shao plays the gu zheng, a Chinese stringed instrument.

Ter offered Annandale students a message of hope and reconciliation. Despite losing most of his relatives in the war in Sudan, he says, “to be a human being is to forgive.” He blames politicians and government policies for wars, while “the most vulnerable people, women and children, bear the brunt of the atrocities.”

Ter urged the audience to help the needy, respect human dignity, and not generalize about people. “There are good people in every society,” he says.

There were many people who helped Ter along the way, but his own drive to learn was also a huge factor in his success. He spent much of his childhood in a refugee camp in Kenya after being separated from his parents during a bombing raid in his village in war-torn Sudan.              
The Animal Activists Club was formed by juniors Alie Benavides (left) and Tatyana Garrett to educate the community about the need to stop animal abuse.
“I was determined to learn how to read,” he says, and because there were no pencils or paper in the camp, he got people to teach him using a finger to write in the sand. Ter recalls an elderly man who told him, “keep doing that and one day the world will be a soccer ball in your hand”—a statement that had a profound influence on him.

Eventually, he was adopted by a family in Jacksonville, Fla. When he first came to the United States knowing no one, he discovered “the best way to learn about a country is to observe the people and culture and learn about the history.”

Kelly Ruiz, a senior at AHS and budding fashion designer, co-founded My Friend’s Closet, to collect clothing and donate it to those in need in the Annandale community.
Because Ter was tall, the U.S. government estimated his age at 21, which meant he couldn’t go high school. So he spent hours reading and studying at a Barnes & Noble. After passing the GED, he attended the University of Florida. “If you are determined to achieve your goals and study hard, you can succeed,” he told the audience. In 2007, he was reconnected with his brother and learned he was actually five years younger than he thought.  

Inspired by President Kennedy’s famous quote exhorting young people to “give back,” he joined the Peace Corps and spent three years teaching English in Azerbaijan. His biggest accomplishment there was convincing the elders that girls should have the same opportunity for education as boys.

Members of the Annandale Youth Engagement Community Planning Group donated $500 to bring Ter to the Just World Festival from Waltham, Mass., where is studying international development and conflict resolution at Brandeis University

Sangya Shrestha, an AHS senior originally from Nepal, paints an intricate design in henna on the hand of senior Sukhjit Garcha, originally from India. Both are member of the South Asian Student Association, an AHS club open to all students and aimed at raising cultural awareness.
The Just World Festival, founded by Annandale students in 2005, is run by the school’s Just World Interact Club. This year’s event had the theme “Make Some Noise,” to encourage youths  to become involved in global issues and social causes and make some noise for change.

The festival included musical performance from around the world, exhibits from student organizations; vendors; and workshops on fair trade presented by Ten Thousand Villages, the power of yoga, poetry, the Trevor Project on supporting LGBT students, and LearnServe International.

AHS student Christene Bersal (left) and her mother Nilda Baker, a caterer, made Filipino noodles, eggrolls, an egg custard dish called plan, and cupcakes. 
One of the organizations featured at Just World is the AHS Stand for Conscience club. Some of the club’s members volunteer as guides at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum as part of the Bringing the Lessons Home program. 

Others include the the Stop Human Trafficking campaign founded by members of the Annandale United Methodist Church; Environart Volunteers, founded by Frost Middle School student Jean Kim, which makes and sells soap, bracelets, and other materials made of recycled materials; and ShelterBox, which provides boxes full of basic supplies, such as a tent, simple stove, blankets, rain ponchos, and utensils, to people in crisis due to war or natural disasters.

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