tracy_mcgrady_web.jpgSpecial to South Florida Times

LAKE WORTH — A proper education for children has not been a top priority for Darfur after seven years of civil uprising and genocide has ravaged the African nation of Sudan.

Hundreds of thousands of men, women and children have died since the conflict erupted among groups vying for control of the government in 2003.

Many of the children who survived were orphaned, forced to live in refugee camps where food, supplies and educational opportunity have been scarce.

For Lake Worth teacher Pia Lawson, the outcry is for quality education to youth in refugee camps to put them on a path towards a better future.

Lawson and 40 students at Park Vista Community High School, 7900 Jog Rd., launched The SEED (Students Empowering Education in Darfur) Project in response to the crisis.

“I decided to create the program in August after reading a magazine article that depicted the outcry to educate students in refugee camps in Darfur,” Lawson said. “I then reached out to the Darfur Dream Team – Sister Schools Program organization and applied for Park Vista to become a sister school.”

The Darfur Dream Team – Sister Schools Program is a partnership of the NBA and NBA Cares Program. Professional basketball players help to raise money and awareness about the tragic civil war in Sudan and the need for adequate schooling for children of the Darfur region, most affected by the conflict.

Houston Rockets’ Tracy McGrady spearheaded the effort after visiting refugee camps in Chad and seeing first-hand the children’s thirst for education.

Other NBA stars supporting the effort include the Miami Heat’s Jermaine O’Neal, Los Angeles Lakers’ Derek Fisher, Los Angeles Clippers’ Baron Davis and Chicago Bulls’ Luol Deng.

The Darfur Dream Team – Sister Schools program says money is needed to rehabilitate classrooms, train teachers – all of whom are refugees from Darfur – and provide school supplies and sports equipment, about $300,000 annually for each camp.

The program links American middle and high schools and universities with schools in 12 Darfuri refugee camps.

American students need to become aware of events happening globally by assisting students in other countries, said Lawson, a social studies teacher.

“This is important because the devastation of genocide occurring in Darfur is affecting the nation as a whole,” she said.

Killings in Darfur, deemed genocide by much of the world, has claimed 400,000 lives and displaced more than 2.5 million people, according to some estimates. More than 100 people die each day and about 5,000 die each month. There is no Internet and very little electricity in the camps. The Sister Schools Program is trying  to set up video access for blogs and other communication.

“There has been no communication thus far [with the children in the Darfuri refugee camps].  We are working out the technical aspects of video,” Lawson said. “Chatting with the students may be challenging because of geographical location and time zones.”

Park Vista is being linked with the Goz Amer Camp, which has six primary schools.

Lawson said there is “zero cost” to the school for the SEED Project which, is funded by donations. Backpacks, pens, paper and other school supplies are needed and financial contributions will be accepted through April 2011.

Monetary donations will be sent directly to the refugee camps to assist in purchasing books, equipment and teaching supplies.

“It costs $82 per year for each child to be educated in the refugee camps in Darfur and there are 83 students per class,” Lawson said.

“As a school, we’re trying to raise $3,000.”

Those wishing to donate to the Park Vista Seed Project should contact Pia Lawson at 561-491-8400 or e-mail


Pictured: Tracy McGrady