Ty Swenson
A few handmade bones on display at Chief Sealth International High School. History and art students are hoping to make 3,000 bones by the end of March to help raise money to combat and awareness of genocide across the world. Their creations will be sent to Washington, D.C. in April for a nationwide collaborative art installation at the National Mall.

Chief Sealth students stand up to genocide with arts and crafts

Taking a peek inside Patrice De La Ossa’s Chief Sealth International High School classroom on the afternoon of Feb. 21, it looked like your average arts and crafts activity hour. Inside, a mix of Sealth students and 4th graders from Tilden School worked feverishly as scissors cut, rolls of tape secured, and unused scraps of newspaper wafted to the ground.

Closer inspection of the end product revealed they weren’t making Paper Mache dolls or prepping for Easter, but making bones. Femurs, fibulas, tibias and the like were overflowing out of boxes, leading to the obvious question: “What exactly is going on here?”

Crafts with a purpose. The students were building bones for a national social arts practice called One Million Bones. From June 8th to June 10th, 2013, one million hand-crafted bones (including an estimated 3,000 from Sealth and Tilden students) will come together and be laid out for the world to see at the National Mall in Washington D.C., all in the name of raising awareness about genocide.

“The installation will serve as a collaborate site of conscience to remember victims and survivors, and as a visible petition to raise awareness of the issue and call upon our government to take much needed and long overdue action,” in the words of project organizers at their website, www.onemillionbones.org.

There is also a fundraising component, with the Bezos Family Foundation (Amazon) donating $1 for every bone crafted by students across the nation, up to $500,000, that will be given to CARE for their humanitarian efforts in Somalia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

The overarching goal is to mobilize governments to craft real policy and attempt true aid for countries experiencing genocide, including the Congo, Sudan, Burma, Syria, Somalia, Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, and introduce everyday citizens to the everyday atrocities occurring in those countries.

At Chief Sealth, the project began with history teacher Paul Fischburg getting an email from One Million Bones organizers and deciding it was a good fit for his semester-long 10th grade world history class.

“We are often studying those horrible things that human beings do to each other throughout history,” Fischburg said. “Humanity and inhumanity.”

On the first day of the semester, he had his students write down examples of humanity and inhumanity on opposing sides of a notecard. The next day, in early February, Global Nomads came to Sealth to teach them about genocide and the million bone project. Word spread and both art and history classes throughout the school are taking part: raising one dollar, one symbolic bone at a time.

On March 21, Sealth students will lay their own bones down as part of Multicultural Night festivities, and then box them all up for the trip to D.C. in early April.

Alexandra Kattar, a student teacher from Western Washington University working with Fischburg, said, “Since Chief Sealth is an international school we try to be involved in global issues that are happening right now and this is one of those activities. It’s always important that we talk about current affairs, especially in a history class. Why do we study the past? It is ultimately to make a better future. And I think it set a really good tone for the class that there are problems happening right now that we can do something about.”

Kattar said many students were wholly unaware of where the Congo or Somalia were on a map, let alone the civil strife occurring on their soil. She tasked her students with researching countries experiencing genocide, and coming up with proposed solutions.

For example, in the Congo, “there are minerals being exported, that’s how the militia is getting the money to buy guns. These minerals are used in cell phones and computers and they end up in the consumer market in the United States, so a lot of my students came to the conclusion that one thing we could do was have a consumer boycott of products that use conflict minerals that come from the Congo.”

For Chief Sealth “junior to senior” Jack Corkern, the project will likely change his life trajectory.

Corkern said he has an Ethiopian foster family, making the African conflicts especially hard-hitting.

While other students look for colleges or jobs after graduating, Corkern said he wants to travel to the Congo to perform humanitarian aid.

“There are some many children without parents already, and we need to keep any more from becoming child soldiers,” he said.

Corkern said he wants to see the major nations step up their aid and attention where genocide occurs.

“I just want to see some kind of action.”

The bone he was crafting out of old newspaper as we talked just might help get someone’s attention.

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