A Gem of a Girl: Harriton High School junior Abri Bernstein grew a middle school jewelry fundraiser into a multi-year effort to raise awareness of genocide in Africa.
Mitzvah Heroine: Harriton High School junior Abri Bernstein, 16, a native of Harrisburg who moved to Villanova some years back with her family.
What She Does for Love: Abri founded Gems NOT Genocide, which has evolved into the largest student group at Harriton, comprised of some 150 members. In addition to promoting awareness of African genocide, members raise money to help build a new school for children who have been affected by the ongoing conflicts in Darfur. Recent appearances at Harriton by Carl Wilkens, reportedly the sole American who remained in Rwanda during the 1994 slaughter there; and Hawa Abdallah Mohammed Salih, one of the tribeswomen facing persecution in the Sudan, represent this teen's increasing clout in raising consciousness about genocide among communities way beyond the African nation.
Not a One-Time Thing: It all started by going to the movies — although the then 7th grader in Harrisburg didn’t have an idea what was in store for her when she saw "The Devil Came on Horseback,” with her mother, a 2007 documentary by Ricki Stern and Anne Sundberg focusing on the ongoing genocide in Darfur. “I was perplexed by what I saw,” Abri said, and inspired to battle back through fundraising.
How She Did It: Abri and a friend “gathered other friends to make jewelry out of recycled things and started selling it to benefit Darfur.” She continued her mission after moving to Villanova the following year. Last summer, she even visited Rwanda under the aegis of the School of Ethics and Global Leadership (SEGL), geared to industrious high school juniors with a sense of integrity and a mission to achieve. It was during her visit that she met Wilkens and initiated the groundwork that would bring him to Harriton.
Good for Her: Abri was so influenced by her trip that she decided to spend the second semester of her junior year with the SEGL program in Washington, D.C. This whole experience, she enthused, only enhances her longtime commitment to tikkun olam. She spent a recent visit to Israel volunteering at a home for children and plans to get involved in “international programs” when she gets to college, or maybe take a year off after Harriton to devote time to human rights causes. “I am surprised myself at the impact of what I am doing.”