STOP in focus
For more than a year, Barbara Vogel and her elementary students at Highline Community School in Aurora, Colo., have tried to draw the world's attention to the plight of slaves in Sudan.
Through the STOP, or Slavery That Oppresses People, campaign, students have given their own money to buy back freedom for women and children who are living as slaves in the midst of a civil war between the Arab-dominated, Islamic government and mainly Christian rebels in the southern part of the country. Pictures of individuals who have become free line the walls of their classroom. ("Liberating Lesson," March 31, 1999.)
But the campaign has drawn criticism from some who suggest it hurts more than helps. Now Ms. Vogel has had a chance to judge its effects firsthand.
On Oct. 8, she returned from a 10-day trip to the Bahr El Ghazal region of the northeast African nation, where she witnessed the "redemption" of more than 4,000 slaves, visited a village school, and met with dignitaries who thanked her and the students for their dedication.
Traveling with officials from Christian Solidarity International, a human-rights organization that has been supporting the slave-redemption program, Ms. Vogel said she wanted confirmation that she and her students have been helping people rather than making the situation even worse.
In recent months, articles critical of slave redemption--arguing that the practice actually encourages the capture of more slaves by raising the price for slaves and inspiring some captors to enslave people and then seek redemption money--have appeared in the Denver Post and The Atlantic Monthly. Officials of the United Nations Children's Fund and other groups have also said that while they appreciate the Colorado students' good intentions, they don't believe their efforts will end slavery in Sudan because the civil war is still raging.
But Ms. Vogel said she has never been asked by any human-rights group to stop the project, and after talking directly with people in Sudan, she is convinced that her students have made a positive difference. "I have a very solid, warm, comforting feeling about what we've done," she said in an interview.
One of the officials Ms. Vogel met with in Sudan, Dr. Justin Yac Arop, a medical doctor who is a representative of the Sudan People's Liberation Movement, issued a press release in August stating that there had been "absolutely no increase in the number or intensity of the Arab militia raids into northern Bahr El Ghazal in 1999."
During her visit, Ms. Vogel said, she was struck by the poverty of the people. Their lack of material possessions includes a lack of educational materials, she noted. "To have your own book in Sudan is like for us to have a Mercedes car," she said.
So now, in addition to alerting people to the slave-redemption program, the students' campaign will list items that can be donated, such as books, pens, paper, and other supplies.
"The focus of the STOP campaign will always be public awareness. It has not been fund raising," Ms. Vogel said. "We've always given people options."
Vol. 19, Issue 8, Page 3Published in Print: October 20, 1999, as Take Note