Darfur is a long way from Harriton High School.But the student-run club Gems Not Genocide is dedicated to helping victims of that country’s ongoing humanitarian crisis. Founder Abri Bernstein graduated in June, just after the first Gems Not Genocide spring auction.
MLT: What’s the “gems” part of the group?
AB: We hold drives to collect old and broken necklaces, bracelets, earrings and other items. We take those pieces apart and use the materials to create new jewelry. That’s what we sell on our Etsy site and during holiday sales at school. I say “we,” but I’m not the jewelry designer. My friends are the creative ones. I’m on the organizational end. We also hold a Zumbathon, benefit concerts and events at nail salons around Mother’s Day.
MLT: How much money has the group raised?
AB: Close to $15,000 in four years.
MLT: That’s impressive for a group of high-school kids selling recycled jewelry. Why has it been so successful?
AB: I think it’s because the money is not for us—for a trip or uniforms or those kinds of things. It’s for the kids of Darfur. That’s why the educational effort is so important. When people learn about the scope of the crisis, they want to help.
MLT: To what organizations does Gems Not Genocide donate money?
AB: Our focus is on providing educational opportunities to people displaced out of Darfur. That seems like the area where we can have the most impact. We donated to the Darfur Dream Team, which funds schools in Chad. We also gave to the Darfur Peace & Development Organization, which built a school in northern Darfur.
MLT: How have you educated the community about the conflict?
AB: We’ve brought different speakers to Harriton to explain what’s happening in Darfur. Our biggest effort was in April. We organized a conference at Harriton. We got internationally known activists and experts to attend. Some were survivors of Darfur who work to stop the genocide and help its victims. The goal was to inspire and educate people—students as well as adults—to get involved in the humanitarian effort. We used the tagline “Witness. Inspire. Act.” That’s what we hope people will do.
MLT: How did you learn about activism?
AB: I started this work when I was in seventh grade. I saw a documentary about Darfur called The Devil Came on Horseback. I talked to my mom about it and decided to do something to help, so I got my friends to create the jewelry and sell it. Since then, I had the opportunity to be an ANNpower Fellow, which is run by the Ann Taylor clothing company. Fifty girls from around the country are chosen to attend leadership training in Washington, D.C. After that, I was paired with a mentor, who has provided amazing guidance. Then, I applied for an ANNpower grant and got it. That’s funding our work, too.
MLT: You graduated in June. Now what?
AB: George Washington University. I was accepted to the Elliott School of International Affairs. I’m not sure where the next four years will take me, but I know I want to work in genocide prevention. It’s what I’m supposed to do with my life.