It was through dark pictures the world found out about genocide in Darfur in the western part of Sudan. Gabe Ferrick of Santa Rosa was just learning about these atrocities through his fifth grade teacher and what he learned changed his young life.
"When I heard what was happening in Darfur, and I saw news segments and read about it on the Internet, I was disgusted," Ferrick said.
Ferrick approached his rabbi for advice on how to help the children in Africa and learned about "Jewish World Watch" and its backpack project. The organization donated backpacks full of provisions for kids in a refugee camp in Chad.
Ferrick quickly raised $16,000, enough to purchase 450 backpacks. Inside those bags were shoes, sandals and other things the kids of Darfur need for school.
The success of that project led Ferrick to pursue other fundraising efforts. He mobilized classmates, family members and his community in Santa Rosa, and together they raised money by walking for three miles against genocide.
"I'm Jewish, and we have a saying, 'never again,'" Ferrick said. "After the Holocaust ended, we said this will never happen again, this should never happen anywhere, but it's actually happening in multiple places right now, and that's not okay. It needs to stop."
"What is unusual is the magnitude and intensity of what Gabe has done," said Rabbi George Gittleman. "It's one thing to raise a little money, but he's raised over $100,000 for causes in Darfur and Rawanda. That's an amazing amount of money."
Ferrick's efforts recently won him the 2011 Helen Diller Teen Tikkun Olam Award, recognizing the efforts of young people who tackle global issues and improve lives. Ferrick will receive $36,000, and some of that money will go to continue funding his different world causes.
Ferrick was on his way to Rwanda when he learned he had won. He spent the next twelve days with the Rwanda School Project, helping to bring supplies and teaching lessons in schools in the village of Rwamagana.
"In Rwanda, these people have lived through atrocities," said Valerie Hulsman, "with having a million people murdered in the genocide of 1994. And the reason we should care is this is the world we live in and these people are real people, just like us."
Ferrick hopes to inspire other young people to get involved in a cause.
"If there is a kid out there who wants to help, but doesn't know if he should, he might be made fun of by his friends," Ferrick said. "Make sure you follow what you think is right."