Gabe, right, with friend in Africa

Gabe Ferrick of Santa Rosa is one of five young Californians to each receive a $36,000 award to recognize efforts in social activism.

The Montgomery High Student was selected for the  2011 Diller Teen Tikkun Olam Award for his work bringing attention to genocide in Darfur.

To date, Gabe has raised more than $60,000 for genocide relief efforts, much of it through helping put on local fund-raising walks. He became the Northern California organizer for Jewish World Watch. Below he shares a little about his efforts and his future plans.

High School: Montgomery High School, Santa Rosa

Favorite Film: The Hangover

Favorite Book: Harry Potter (all of them)

Favorite Food: Steak

Favorite Sport: Basketball

Favorite Sports team: New York Yankees

Favorite Band/Rapper: XV

Top College Choice: Cal Poly San Luis Obispo

Dream Job: Engineer (not exactly my DREAM job, but it’s what I want to be)

Hero: George Clooney and Don Cheadle because of the outstanding work they do to help other people

THE INTERVIEW:

Congratulations, Gabe. What was your reaction to winning the award?

I was actually on a plane in Chicago about to head to Brussels and then to Kigali, Rwanda, so it was just amazing timing. My mom took a picture of me when I got the news and I had the BIGGEST smile on my face. I was shocked and extremely happy.

You first learned about the suffering in Darfur when you were in the fifth grade. Your award recognizes the work you’ve done over the years since then to help end the killing there. What do you want readers to understand about the situation in Darfur and what they can do to make a difference?

The first thing that people must start doing is spreading awareness. That’s the key. Not a lot of people know what is happening in Darfur or the Congo or what happened in Rwanda. A lot of people don’t even know what genocide is! If more people learn what is happening in Darfur, more people will try to help! That’s why awareness is the key.

You recently returned from two weeks in Rwanda, another nation scarred by genocide. Why did you go and what did you experience there?

My journey to Rwanda was a humanitarian trip. I went with eight others and we taught at two different schools (a secondary school and a preschool). We brought them school supplies, flip fops, and hygiene items such as tooth brushes, tooth paste, and floss. I was astonished by the people there. These people’s children, brothers, sisters, fathers, mothers, and friends were murdered right before there eyes not even two decades ago and they are living in peace with the same people that did these atrocious things! They have an incredible ability to forgive and they really taught all of us about forgiveness.

Would you share a lasting memory from your efforts in the fight against genocide?

When I was raising money for my very first Walk for Darfur, I went to the Valley of the Moon Children’s Home and asked the kids there to color tags. One boy said, “I feel better about myself because I’m helping others”.

What next steps do you plan to take?

I plan to continue organizing the Santa Rosa Walk to End Genocide for the next two years, but after that I’m not sure. I know I will continue to fight genocide and raise awareness, but I need to think of how I will do it.

You’ve said most of the award money will go for college. What schools do you want to apply to and what might you want to study? After college, what career most interests you?

Cal Poly SLO, UC Davis, UC Berkley, UCSD, and UCLA are high on my list of colleges to apply to, but I have a while so I’m not sure yet. I want to study engineering because I love math, and obviously I would like to be an engineer.

What do you plan to do with the rest of the award money?

I’m going to donate the rest of the award money to JWW, the Rwanda School Project, and my synagogue, Congregation Shomrei Torah.

What lessons have you learned as you’ve gotten involved in the effort to stop the killing in Darfur and other places?

I’ve learned so much, but I would sum up what I’ve learned in two quotes. “Stand up for what you believe in even if you’re standing alone” and “Be the change you wish to see in the world”. The second quote is Gandhi, I do not know who the first quote is from.