In late July, 2008, Oxfam America sent Nick Anderson, an 18-year-old rising high school senior, on a one-month mission to Sudan. Our objective was to help him get into Darfur where he would serve as Oxfam America's youth ambassador, meeting with teenagers there so he could return to the United States and help tell their stories.
More than four years of fighting in that remote western region of Sudan has forced 2.5 million people from their homes. Many of them have flocked to overcrowded camps for safety. Others have squeezed into towns bursting with displaced people.
As the co-founder of a highly successful fundraising initiative, Nick helped to raise more than $300,000 for the people of Darfur. But not content to stop there, he approached us here at Oxfam with an idea: If he could visit Darfur he could help create a vital link between a growing group of youth activists here in the United States and Darfur teens forced to spend years in the camps.
Yanked from their homes and villages—and the social and civic framework those places provided—Darfur's youth are now growing up in an environment riddled with fear and boredom. Nick heard about their hunger for places to gather, for simple pleasures like balls with which to play sports, for basic improvements to health standards, for books, for safe ways to get to school—and the list goes on.
Before Nick left, we asked him what the single most important thing was that he wanted to accomplish on this mission. He said he hoped to bring back an experience that would touch the hearts of American teenagers. He wanted to find a way for his friends—and teenagers like them—to identify with the youth of Darfur and feel moved to help them as peers.
His personal goal? "To define us as a generation that takes action and one that cares about such important causes as the one in Darfur."