2015-2016 Year in Review

Newsletter Archive

STF Events: 2015-2016

Four Times A Refugee

Photos by Patricia Williams

April 26, 2016: For the second year in a row, Dr. Henry Oster, Holocaust survivor and teenage refugee, returned to STF to help students commemorate Genocide Awareness and Prevention month. This year he tied his personal story of tragedy and triumph to the current global refugee crisis. And just as his first visit with STF last spring, students listened in awe and silence to Henry’s presentation, followed by a torrent of questions as they crowded around him after his talk. Students expressed their appreciation that Henry shares his painful experiences so that young people can better understand the lessons of history for today’s troubled world. Rising leader Kaden Kessel said, “Dr. Oster was inspirational and I can’t wait to see him again!” Others made plans to invite Henry to speak at their schools.

Born in Germany in 1928, Henry described how he was a refugee four times throughout the 1930s and 40s. First he was a German Jewish refugee in a Polish ghetto. After surviving Birkenau Concentration Camp, Henry was “repatriated” back to Germany, despite having the Nazis revoke his German citizenship years before. He was transported for a third time to France with the surviving “Boys of Buchenwald,” where he lived in a deserted sanatorium converted into a refugee orphanage. At the last moment before Henry boarded a ship to Palestine, an uncle living in Los Angeles, who Henry had never met, saw Henry’s name printed in the LA Times as a Holocaust survivor, and found a way to bring him to the U.S. as a refugee in 1946.

After a long and successful career as an optometrist, Henry retired in 2014, and he has continued to speak out about his Holocaust experiences. “I wish you good luck and success,” Henry said to students as he congratulated them for their advocacy efforts on behalf of today’s refugees around the world.

Before Henry spoke, more than 60 students, teachers and supporters participated in: 1. reenacting STF calls last fall to the White House urging President Obama to do more to protect refugees; 2. sharing campus conversations involving anti-refugee sentiments; 3. and demonstrations of three very different meetings with Congressional representatives regarding efforts to stop HR4038, “the American Safety Against Foreign Enemies Act.” Participants then discussed how they can continue to grow as human rights advocates.

Chapter leaders took action once again on behalf of refugees by writing to 31 U.S. governors, opposing their efforts to keep Syrian refugees out of their states in recent months. STFers asked the governors to reconsider their positions, reminding them that “playing on fear is not only bad for our country, but sends a message that could harm refugees abroad.”


STF Humanizes the Refugee Crisis for Congressman Sherman’s Staff

STF Delegation presents Congressman Sherman letters of thanks for his vote to stop anti-refugee legislation. Photo by Kristin Ghazarians
STF Delegation presents Congressman Sherman letters of thanks for his vote to stop anti-refugee legislation. Photo by Kristin Ghazarians

April 7, 2016: STF representatives from Harvard-Westlake and Sierra Canyon schools met with Congressman Brad Sherman (30th District) to thank him for his vote to defeat the American Safety Against Foreign Enemies Act (HR4038), which would have made it almost impossible for Syrian and Iraqi refugees to enter the United States.

As a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, Congressman Sherman emphatically opposed HR4038. STF also shared a portfolio of testimonies and photos of refugees with his staff to humanize the crisis.

In addition to the thank you letters to Congressman Sherman for speaking out against HR4038, students also gave him copies of the documentary “Salam Neighbor” STF authored study guide and encouraged him to view “Salam Neighbor” to expand his understanding of the human cost of the global refugee crisis.

The Congressman’s staff thanked the delegation for their dedication to the refugee crisis and encouraged them to continue reaching out to Congressman Sherman to raise awareness and help educate their district on human rights issues.


STF Disappointed in Congresswoman Hahn Vote

Students present Patricia Broughton with human rights education and advocacy materials related to the STF Global Refugee Crisis Campaign. Photo by Kristin Causey.
Students present Patricia Broughton with human rights education and advocacy materials related to the STF Global Refugee Crisis Campaign.
Photo by Kristin Causey.

March 28, 2016: A STF delegation from Carson High School met with Congresswoman Janice Hahn’s representative on immigration, Patricia Broughton, to discuss the global refugee crisis.

After giving a brief background of STF, the students expressed their concerns for protecting refugee rights at home and abroad. STFers shared their surprise and disappointment with Congresswoman Hahn’s vote in favor of the American Safety Against Foreign Enemies Act (HR 4038). Ms. Broughton confirmed that the office received several messages from disappointed constituents after the vote.

Broughton commended the students on their dedication to human rights and for their efforts to reach out to elected officials. She was intrigued by the conversation and said that this was “one of the most interesting campaigns I’ve ever seen.” She promised to call the Congressional Research Service and request more information on how the U.S. is dealing with refugees.

The Carson representatives presented Ms. Broughton with STF’s “Salam Neighbor” screening materials as well as more than 120 signatures on a petition encouraging Congresswoman Hahn to do more to protect refugee rights.

SAMO Explores the Refugee Crisis

Photos by Susie Han

March 17, 2016: The Santa Monica High School STF chapter hosted a “refugee experience” event for more than 270 students to raise awareness about the the global refugee crisis.

The all-day event consisted of four stations: 1. refugee rights; 2. testimonies; 3. refugee routes into Europe; and 4. a station that asked what participants would bring if they suddenly had to flee as refugees.

The audience got into the mindset of refugees by putting on life vests and thermal blankets, sharing refugee stories and discussing images of the crisis from the news. Students were stunned by the dangers refugees face and challenges they must overcome to reach safety.

Congratulations SAMO STF for an informative and engaging event!

U.S. Congressman and STF Confer on Refugee Crisis

Students present thank you letters to Congressman Lieu for his work on refugee rights. Photo by Ashley Dominguez.
Students present thank you letters to Congressman Lieu for his work on refugee rights. Photo by Ashley Dominguez.

February 16, 2016: STF leaders from Harvard-Westlake, New Roads, Palisades Charter and Santa Monica High Schools met with Congressman Ted Lieu (33rd District) to thank him for being an outspoken advocate of refugee rights and to ask him how STF can help support his future work for refugees.

While discussing whether or not the US is doing its fair share in the global refugee crisis, Congressman Lieu encouraged STF to contact elected officials, use social media and write letters to the editor to raise awareness of the issue. He warned there could be other bills coming similar to HR4038 (American Safety Against Foreign Enemies Act), which would have placed unnecessary and burdensome restrictions on resettlement criteria, making it nearly impossible for Syrian or Iraqi refugees to enter the United States. He promised to keep in touch with STF about upcoming refugee votes and other ways STF can support his work.

The delegation provided Congressman Lieu with the STF study guide for “Salam Neighbor” for possible use with his March screening on Capitol Hill. The student leaders also presented letters signed by hundreds of Lieu’s constituents thanking him for his support of refugee rights.


Rodi Makes It Real!

Photos by Patricia Williams

January 26, 2016: Rodi Youssef, a 16-year-old Syrian refugee, spoke to more than 50 STF leaders, teachers and special guests at the STF Winter Workshop about how and why he came to live in the U.S. in October.

After serenading the group with his oud (a Middle Eastern stringed instrument), Rodi answered questions about his life in Syria, fleeing to Turkey and working 15 hours a day, 7 days a week, and ultimately winning the UNHCR lottery to come to the U.S. with his widowed mother, and older brother and sister.

Later, STF Executive Director, Pam Bruns, reminded everyone that “Advocacy begins with the person next to you!” and led the workshop through a personal and group advocacy training session. Rodi joined STFers as they devleoped personal advocacy networks in breakout groups. Part two of the advocacy training is coming next week to each STF chapter.

Be A Global Neighbor: January 31, 2016

Purchase tickets today!

The Moss Theater at New Roads School
3131 Olympic Blvd.
Santa Monica, California 90404

4:00 pm | Doors open – Meet & Greet with Human Rights Watch’s Bill Frelick
5:00 pm | Film Screening, followed by panel discussion
7:00 pm | Reception with tacos and drinks

As the world’s worst refugee crisis since World War II is unfolding and repercussions of the Syrian conflict are felt throughout the world, Human Rights Watch is excited to invite you to a screening and discussion of Salam Neighbor, a movie following some of the tens of thousands of Syrian refugees living in Jordan.

Salam Neighbor follows Zach and Chris, two Americans who head to the edge of war, just seven miles from the Syrian border, to live among 85,000 uprooted refugees in Jordan’s Za’atari camp. As the first filmmakers allowed by the United Nations to register and set up a tent inside a refugee camp, Zach and Chris plunge into the heart of the world’s most pressing humanitarian crisis.

From meeting Um Ali, a woman struggling to overcome personal loss and cultural barriers, to the street smart, 10-year-old Raouf, whose trauma hides just beneath his ever present smile, Zach and Chris uncover inspiring stories of individuals rallying, against all odds, to rebuild their lives and those of their neighbors.

Join us after the movie with the film’s directors Zach Ingrasci and Chris Temple, and producer Salam Darwaza, along with Human Rights Watch’s Refugee Program Director Bill Frelick, for a discussion moderated by Asli Bali, Professor of Law at UCLA.

General tickets are $30 and student tickets are $15. Tickets are unreserved and seating is first-come, first-served. Tickets will not be sold at the door. Buy tickets here.For more info, please contact Kristin Ghazarians: (310) 477-5540 | ghazark@hrw.org

STF Advocates for Refugees

Photos by Robert Walker, Narkis Garcia, Lauren Weinstein, Mary Garvey, Kristin Ghazarians, Heather Odell, Susan Turner Jones, Nancy Nazarian Medina

November 20 – December 11, 2015: On the anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (Nov. 20) and Human Rights Day (Dec. 10), STF chapters hosted events to raise awareness of the global refugee crisis.

Events included screening “Salam Neighbor,” presenting a refugee tent exhibit and hosting educational tables. STFers also collected petition signatures urging the United States ratify the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), and encouraged classmates to contact their US Senators to ask them to defeat efforts to bar Syrian and Iraqi refugees from entering the United States.

Congratulations STF for your commitment to refugee rights, especially refugee children!


Raising Our Voices for Justice

Photo by Patricia Williams

November 17, 2015: Representatives from the HRW Student Task Force set up a refugee tent exhibition to educate guests of the annual Human Rights Watch Voices for Justice Dinner about the global refugee crisis. STF leaders described human rights violations faced by refugees fleeing around the world and asked participants to share what they would bring in their “backpack” if they had to leave home forever.Students and teachers joined the celebration for Nicholas Opiyo, the 2015 recipient of the Alison Des Forges Award for Extraordinary Activism. At the STF Defender Reception, Mr. Opiyo, along with HRW Refugees Director Bill Frelick, spoke to STF about the importance of fighting for human rights for all, whether they are a former Lord’s Resistance Army commander or a Syrian child entering the European Union after the Pairs terrorist attacks on November 13. STFers also participated in Q&A sessions with three HRW researchers: Bill Frelick, Senior Advocate of HRW’s Children’s Rights Division Elizabeth Calvin, and HRW Yemen and Kuwait Researcher Belkis Wille.

During the dinner, special guests actor and musician, Aldo Black, and Los Angeles Mayor, Eric Garcetti, reinforced the value of Human Rights Watch’s work and thanked guests for supporting the organization.


Student Bill of Rights and Responsibilities at Pali HS

Photos by Patricia Williams

October 28, 2015: More than 40 student leaders, teachers and administrators discussed the first draft of the Student Bill of Rights and Responsibilities at Palisades Charter High School, in Pacific Palisades, CA. Using the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, participants are taking a human rights-based approach to identifying their rights and responsibilities. Students are soliciting feedback from the entire school community, meeting weekly to continue the development of the Student Bill of Rights and Responsibilities, and hope to have the school vote for ratification by the end of the academic year.

Prior to the meeting, every student on campus took the “Taking the Human Rights Temperature of Your School” survey to look at campus culture through a human rights lens. Response to survey questions ranged from a high of 87% of their student body believe their school community welcomes students, teachers, administrators and staff from diverse backgrounds and cultures, including people not born in this country, to a low of 50% believe someone accused of wrong-doing is presumed innocent until proven guilty. The survey provides a road map for their work developing the student generated document.

Carson Meets i-Act

Photo by Vanessa Nahigian

October 20, 2015: More than 150 students at Carson High School learned about the Darfuri refugees living in Chad from Gabriel Stauring and Katie-Jay Scott of i-Act. The audience heard the story of a refugee family from Darfur, and the struggles they faced both on their journey to Chad and during their time in the refugee camp. Participants were engaged in learning about the issues in the camps, including the lack of sufficient food and restricted access to education. They asked questions about Katie-Jay and Gabe’s journeys to the camps, the emotions they feel on these trips, and the different programs they set up for the refugees. STF members lead breakout groups to develop questions for refugee children in Chad. Some questions will be used in a human rights survey and others will be used in a video chat with refugees.

The Carson STF chapter did a fantastic job planning and running this event, which raised awareness of the global refugee crisis in their school community.

Palisades Students Advance Human Rights on Campus

Photos by Patricia Williams

October 14, 2015: Faculty and students from Palisades Charter High School, in Pacific Palisades, gathered to discuss the development of human rights education on their campus since the Human Rights Education Summer Institute they attended in July. Faculty members shared how they have and will continue to incorporate human rights issues and vocabulary into their respective subjects, ranging from history to art. STF student leaders presented updates on the “Student Bill of Rights and Responsibilities,” an ongoing campus-wide project aimed at protecting the rights of students. STF leaders emphasized that this effort will not only empower students to know their own rights, but will also teach them to protect the rights of those whose voices are not heard.

Pali students will use the results from a recently administered school-wide survey, “Taking the Human Rights Temperature of your School,” to create the Student Bill of Rights and Responsibilities. Student leaders will begin drafting this document on October 28, making it one that is sure to affect the lives of Pali students and serve as an example for other young human rights advocates.


LA Premier of “The Trials of Spring” September 20

Film Screening Label

American Cinematheque at the Aero Theatre
1328 Montana Ave.
Santa Monica, CA 90403

4:30pm | Doors open; Meet & Greet with HRW’s Sarah Leah Whitson
5:30pm | Film screening, followed by panel discussion
7:30pm | Reception with food and drinks

When a young Egyptian woman travels from her village to Cairo to add her voice to the tens of thousands of Egyptians demanding an end to 60 years of military rule, she is arrested, beaten, and tortured by security forces and later punished and imprisoned by her family for daring to speak out. Unbreakable, she sets out in a search for freedom and social justice in a country in the grips of a power struggle, where there is little tolerance for the likes of her. Buoyed by the other activists she meets along the way, Hend Nefea’s story mirrors the trajectory of the Arab Spring – from the ecstasy of newfound courage to the agony of shattered dreams. In the end, despite crushing setbacks, it is resilience that sustains the hope for reform even in the darkest hours of repression.

Watch the trailer!
Educators: Check out the film’s study guide!

General tickets are $30 and Student tickets are $15. Tickets are unreserved and seating is first-come, first-served.

Buy Tickets or contact Kristin Ghazarians for limited number of scholarship tickets!

For more info, please contact Kristin Ghazarians: (310) 477-5540 | ghazark@hrw.org

STF Launches Children in the World Refugee Crisis Campaign

Photos by Reuters

We are in the midst of the worst refugee crisis the world has seen since World War II. Worldwide displacement has reached a staggering all-time high as war and persecution relentlessly rage on in too many places around the world. Over 60 million people have been forced from their homes, fleeing for their lives. Thousands find themselves making the dangerous journey across the Mediterranean Sea.

August 28, 2015, International Business Times: Libya is a major transit route for refugees and migrants fleeing conflict and poverty en route to Europe. Cross-border smuggling networks exploit the country’s lawlessness and chaos to traffic Syrians into Libya via Egypt or nationals of sub-Saharan countries via Niger, Sudan and Chad.

About 198 migrants were rescued from a boat that sank off the Libyan coastal town of Zuwara, a major launchpad for smugglers. Many of the migrants on board, most from sub-Saharan Africa, had been trapped in the hold when the boat capsized, officials said.

More than 2,500 people have died making the crossing this year. That compares with 3,500 who died or went missing in the Mediterranean in 2014. “The way people are being packed onto boats is causing their deaths,” UNHCR spokeswoman Melissa Fleming.

The number of refugees and migrants crossing the Mediterranean to reach Europe has passed 300,000 this year, up from 219,000 in the whole of 2014, according to the UN refugee agency UNHCR.

Continue reading the news article.


Fleeing For My Life

Photos by Patricia Williams

August 29, 2015: Over 70 students, teachers and special guests attended the STF Fall Leadership Workshop at Wildwood School to learn about the most serious world-wide refugee crisis since World War II. Participants heard from long-time friends at i-Act, who work in Darfuri refugee camps in Chad, and from an STF leader who fled for her life from Afghanistan and recently secured political asylum.

In preparation for the workshop, students were asked to pack a backpack as if they were fleeing from their home as refugees. They were also given refugee rations for lunch, to help them understand what 60 million displaced people might eat daily.

In the coming weeks, students and teachers will educate themselves and their communities about the refugee crisis, including a video conference call with youth living in the Darfuri refugee camp, Goz Amer, in Chad.  The campaign toolkit will be online soon to help STFers equip themselves as advocates in this tragically developing crisis.

The leadership workshop was co-sponsored by the Wildwood School.

Check out the Children in the World Refugee Crisis toolkit!


Save The Date: STF Fall Leadership Workshop Saturday, August 29

Skyping from Jerusalem, Bede Sheppard, HRW Children’s Rights Division, updates STF leaders on the EMUS Campaign. Photo by Patricia Williams
Skyping from Jerusalem, Bede Sheppard, HRW Children’s Rights Division, updates STF leaders on the EMUS Campaign.
Photo by Patricia Williams

Dear STF,

As you head back to school, we invite you to one of our most important events of the year: STF Fall Leadership Workshop!

Important Information:
Who: You, STF leaders, Teacher Advisors, guests, speakers

When: Saturday, August 29, 9:30am – 2:00pm

Where: Wildwood School (map)
11811 Olympic Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90064
More details coming soon! 

Mark your calendars and RSVP today! (ghazark@hrw.org)

HRE Summer Institute: July 27-28, 2015

HRE expert, Nancy Flowers, explains the history of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights at the HRE Summer Institute. Photo by Thomas Adjani.
HRE expert, Nancy Flowers, explains the history of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights at the HRE Summer Institute.
Photo by Thomas Adjani.

July 27-28, 2015: Educators, administrators and students gathered for a two-day workshop at Palisades Charter High School, in Pacific Palisades, to gain knowledge about the historical and contemporary significance of human rights and the mechanisms that protect them, and to reinforce the skills and values to uphold human rights. Human rights education (HRE) expert and HRE USA Co-Founder, Nancy Flowers, joined participants from Palisades Charter High School, Harvard-Westlake, LAUSD and Aspire Ollin University Prep to develop curriculum and school-wide plans for implementing HRE. Participants discussed why HRE is essential to high school education and began planning how to integrate HRE into their coursework this fall.

Participants from Palisades Charter High School will reconvene in October to share their curriculum experiences and plan how to continue expanding HRE on campus.

Resources for the day:

Binder Materials

Bringing Human Rights Home,” minutes from Nancy Flowers’ presentation

Abandoned by the State,” an example of HRE in Human Rights Watch Reports

For more information, check out the HRW STF-Led HRE Workshops page or contact Kristin Ghazarians.

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