How do you make high school students in North Carolina care about a conflict occurring in South Sudan?
Memes. You know, those photos with blocky text captions. Usually involving cats or some scene from a movie.
Now the Any1Can Club at Myers Park High School in Charlotte, North Carolina are using memes to spread a message of peace through a language that the current generation understands.
As passionate 10th grader Milan Novakovic put it, “It does matter that we stop genocide. As a nation, as the United States, we helped to make South Sudan back in 2011 and when you make something you don’t just make it and let it go. We have to make sure South Sudan thrives.”
The Memes for Peace project, created through a collaboration between Meyers Park High School in Charlotte, NC and Mothering Across Continents, a nonprofit that helps vulnerable mothers and children worldwide, has found a way to tell the history of the world’s newest country – South Sudan.
Over 800 memes were created by 9th grade English students at Myers Park as part of this project. The Any1Can Club and Mothering Across Continents chose a selection of memes that cover the history of Sudan and South Sudan starting with Sudan’s independence from Great Britain, including the 22 year north-south civil war that led to the deaths of an estimated two million people, and ending with the unsuccessful peace and reconciliation efforts happening now.
While this project started out as a small awareness campaign for high school students, it now focuses on gaining the attention of elected officials to advocate for peace. Last May, over 600 Memes for Peace postcards were signed by students and sent to all thirteen Congressional Representatives from the State of North Carolina, as well as Representative Chris Smith (D-NJ), Chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.
This September, members of the Myers Park Any1Can Club met with staff of North Carolina Senators’ Kay Hagan and Richard Burr. When a meeting was arranged with lawmakers, 11th grader Milan noted that lawmakers were “very supportive. They really listened to what we had to say”. Over 3,000 more postcards have been signed since school started.
In pairing a picture of South Sudan with a quote from literature, such as Romeo and Juliet, The Odyssey, or The Hunger Games, ninth grade English students were given the opportunity to connect themes of conflict found in literature to the story of the Lost Boys of South Sudan. They came face-to-face with questions of how to resolve conflict and promote peace through education.
Ninth grade English teacher Carolyn Drake said connecting both has been extremely successful: “We were teaching our texts with the backdrop of what’s going on in South Sudan and the atrocities that had happened there. The meme project brought it all together.”
When fighting in South Sudan broke out in December 2013, the Mothering Across Continents-sponsored “Any1Can Club” at Myers Park decided to work for a better South Sudan not just through memes but also in deeds. This past spring, they organized a “Walk for Wisdom” mobilizing 700 students and raising over $4,000 to fund an adult literacy program in South Sudan. Students walked three miles around a track to represent the average distance Sudanese women and children travel on foot for water every day.
The next round of meme postcards will arrive in Washington DC on December 10th, International Human Rights Day. It only takes two minutes to sign a postcard online and grab the attention of lawmakers. Send a meme postcard and continue the advocacy campaign that Myers Park students started!