In 2017, Braden River High School’s Gabriel McDerment was sitting in a class his freshman year discussing refugees.
While watching the BBC channel, McDerment learned about the Rohingya, a group of Muslims living in Myanmar, a majority Buddhist country. Myanmar denies the Rohingya citizenship and sees them as undocumented immigrants from Bangladesh. In 2017, more than 6,700 Rohingya in attacks by troops supported by Buddhist mobs.
McDerment mentioned the Rohingya in his class and asked students if they would be willing to come together to find a way to help the refugees.
“[The Rohingya] stood out to me for a number of reasons, but one of the reasons was that few people knew about it, and few people still know about it,” McDerment said.
Now as a senior, McDerment and his group, Students for Rohingya Aid, have raised about $1,300 for UNICEF.
McDerment’s efforts with refugee aid among other community service projects is why he is a recipient of the Florida Holocaust Museum’s Anne Frank Humanitarian Award.
McDerment and Ethan Spasciani, a Lakewood Ranch High School senior, were given the award for their humanitarian efforts throughout the 2019-20 school year.
Besides Students for Rohingya Aid, McDerment was involved in the Miracle Network Dance Marathon and a Life Story run and walk for suicide prevention and served as a student leader for the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.
Spasciani has been involved in community projects through his participation in National Honor Society, Student Government Association, Mustangs for Kids and the Humane Society at Lakewood Ranch.
“I work hard in school, but I have time left over, and I think the best thing I can do with my time is try to help people as much as I can,” Spasciani said.
Spasciani started volunteering for the Humane Society at Lakewood Ranch in middle school because he wanted to help his community in some way.