STAND club brings awareness to genocide issue
Seventeen-year-old, Nate Swetlitz, of Naperville, is the president of the STAND club at the Chicagoland Jewish High School in Deerfield. The school's club sponsored an overnight lock-in to raise genocide awareness. | Brian O'Mahoney~for Sun-Times Media
Updated: December 13, 2012 12:30PM
DEERFIELD — Bringing the issue of genocide front-and-center is not a goal many 17-year-olds have, but it’s a mission Chicagoland Jewish High School senior Nate Swetlitz has made for himself.
After learning that CJHS’s STAND club, a division of the Genocide Intervention Network, was relatively inactive last year, Swetlitz, from Deerfield, said he was determined to raise the club’s awareness this year by bringing back its popular sleep-in.
On Saturday, Dec. 1, Swetlitz said at least 35 high school students from various high schools attended an all-night genocide awareness event at the school.
“I was chosen to be the president this year, and I wanted it to be a more active club at our school,” Swetlitz said. “I really wanted to do the sleep in.”
Director of Jewish Studies for CJHS, Dr. Rebecca Schorsch, said, even for an adult, some of the testimony presented was “mind blowing.”
“No matter how many times you hear some of these (stories), there is always a wow moment,” Schorsch said of one genocide refugee’s story. “The strength to survive is breathtaking, no matter how many times you hear it.”
Swetlitz said one Sudanese refugee’s story of survival reinforced his passion to end the violence.
“This guy, from Sudan, Malual Awak, a refugee, was able to come over to the U.S. in the 90s during Sudanese civil war,” Swetlitz said. “ He was telling just an amazing story and was just such a positive and vibrant individual.”
Schorsch said, despite the tales of horror, the refugees’ message was one of appreciation.
“It was striking, he lost his family, lost his home, became an immigrant to a new county,” Schorsch said. “His story was one of gratitude and appreciation; kids learned to view the world through a lens of gratitude.”
Swetlitz said Awak told about his interview with officials in order to enter the U.S . – he wore a Chicago Bulls ball cap, and it just so happened the official conducting his interview was from Evanston.
Swelitz said Awak told the group he was thankful the United States gave him two chances to get in, and thankful that he can raise his three daughters in America, where they have rights.
“If he was still living in Sudan or Chad, they (daughters) would have little to no rights at all, and here they can live their lives,” Swelitz said.
Even though Swelitz said he has lived a life of comfort and safety, it doesn’t deter him from wanting to help others obtain the same freedoms he enjoys.
“I feel obligated to do things for those who don’t have a voice,” Swelitz said. “So many enduring so much hardships and aren’t even heard; I feel it’s just my goal to get them heard by a larger group of people and make it known.”
At the 12-hour-long sleep-in, which didn’t include much sleep at all, Swelitz said, the group made a slew of phone calls, leaving messages at the White House and at several congressmen and senators’ offices.
Swelitz said the STAND club is planning a human rights week next semester, where they will bring in speakers and ask teachers to integrate genocide into their lessons.
“We’re just very passionate about human rights,” Swelitz said.