Somersworth Middle School students Bhargavi Nimoji, Dominique Audrey, Isabella Connelly, Rachael Wattimena, and Gabrielle Suleiman took top honors in a statewide video contest to raise awareness of genocide. Photo by Judi Currie/Fosters.com
By Judi Currie
Posted Jun. 10, 2015 at 6:11 PM
Updated Jun 10, 2015 at 8:17 PM
SOMERSWORTH — Five students from Somersworth Middle School will share more than $1,000 in prize money, receive citations from the governor and be recognized in a ceremony at city hall on Monday for their work to bringing awareness to genocide.
The five eighth-graders swept the top awards in NH Genocide Awareness and Prevention Month video contest.
The contest was sponsored by the state legislature, Governor Maggie Hassan’s office and the Cohen Center for Holocaust Studies at Keene State College.
As the eighth grade students were studying the holocaust, teacher Jacqueline Hanlon offered them the opportunity to participate in the contest as an after-school activity.
“The kids came after school and we went over the rules and I just acted as a facilitator to help with language and keep them on task,” said Hanlon.
She said the theme of the first-ever contest was “Raphael Lemkin – A New Conscience for Humanity.”
Lemkin, a Polish lawyer who emigrated to the United States in 1941, is best known for his work against genocide, and he created the word genocide.
This year also marks the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide, the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz and the 20th anniversary of the genocide in Srebrenica, Bosnia.
Hanlon said the video contest was a great way to raise students’ awareness.
“The videos are amazing and Somersworth swept the competition,” Hanlon said. “When we showed the videos, I was blown away. They were top quality, really well done.”
The team of Bhargavi Nimoji, and Dominique Audrey were Gold Key winners, and each will receive $375. Silver Key winner, Rachael Wattimena, will receive $200 for her solo effort and the team of Gabrielle Suleiman and Isabella Connelly, Bronze Key winners will each receive $125.
The eighth graders studied the Holocaust and genocide at length, and in conjunction with their studies Hanlon arranged for Holocaust survivor Kathy Preston to come speak to the students.
Preston, 76, now lives in Barnstead but was a 5-year-old Hungarian child when her father was taken away to a Nazi death camp. She described the horrors she experienced as a child.
At the same event in early May the student videos were shown.
Gabrielle Suleiman said she and teammate Isabella Connelly added little clips of Raphael Lemkin speaking about genocide. “We focused on why he decided to make the word genocide and how it impacted the world,” Suleiman said.
When the videos were shown, Connelly said she was nervous because Preston was there, “I was nervous, but I was glad that she got to see it, to see how much effort we put into it.”
Suleiman said, “It was huge honor to show her our work, she was a survivor and we wanted to thank her.”
Rachael Wattimena said she tried to cover the basics of the holocaust and go into Raphael Lemkin’s background as well.
Bhargavi Nimoji said she and Dominique Audrey, who took top honors, wanted to get a touch of everything in it, a little about genocide and a little about Lemkin.
Nimoji said she was honored to have Preston see the video, “You don’t often get to meet somebody who survived the holocaust and so many are dying now. It was nice for her to see our work.“
Audrey said they especially wanted to make the point about the word genocide, how it was made and how Lemkin contributed to the understanding of it.
Audrey, too, felt honored to meet Preston. “It is just such an honor for her to see because not many people get to meet a holocaust survivor,” Audrey said.
Dana Hilliard, principal of the middle school, in his role as the city’s mayor will be presenting citations to the winners on behalf of Governor Hassan at Monday’s city council meeting.
“I am extremely proud of the students at Somersworth Middle School and Mrs. Hanlon’s efforts to continue to instill learning the values of holocaust and genocide awareness in our students,” Hilliard said.
In September 2014 Governor Hassan signed House Bill 1444 into law, declaring April as NH Genocide Awareness and Prevention Month.
Tom White, coordinator of educational outreach for the Cohen Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies at Keene said at the time that the law would become a catalyst for bringing more attention to the crime of genocide through facilitating public discourse and awareness, while nurturing the responsibility to protect others.