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U.N. intern going to bear witness in Khartoum

A USF graduate is giving up all the comforts of home to travel overseas and do what she can to help the people of Sudan .

Published January 5, 2007


She gave up her home, so she sleeps on a buddy's couch.

She gave up her car, so she bums rides to work from friends.

But she hung on to her bicycle, so - actually, scratch that. Someone stole it last week.

Suffice it to say that Sara Newton, barista at the Seminole Heights Starbucks, hasn't exactly been kicking it Donald Trump style.

But the 2005 University of South Florida graduate is no slacker. She's given up every modern amenity to save money so she can travel overseas and give up every modern amenity.

She won't be studying for a summer abroad or backpacking across Europe. Newton is scheduled to depart today with a single duffel bag for the African nation of Sudan. There, she'll work as an intern for the United Nations Development Program.

Newton, 26, will be stationed in Khartoum, Sudan's capital, at least to begin the two-month internship.

But she's hoping to get into the region of Darfur, site of one of the world's worst human rights crises.

Many have labeled the conflict a genocide, and most international relief organizations have estimated the number of deaths around 400,000.

"I want to be a witness to the tragedy that's happening there," said Newton, who earned a political science degree at USF.

"I know there's nothing I can do, but I want just to be there and to see it, so the conflict's victims don't feel they're alone."

Newton doesn't have any previous connection to Sudan, but she became interested in international aid after visiting the Middle East with a friend in early 2004.

Witnessing human rights abuses in the West Bank, she said, "changed my whole perspective" on the world.

She returned to the West Bank in July 2005 as part of an internship with a Swedish human rights organization, where she provided research on the West Bank barrier.

While she was there, Newton met a 14-year-old Palestinian boy who lost both of his arms in an explosion.

She said the boy and his three brothers, all impoverished, had dug up a bomb and planned to sell it as scrap metal, but it detonated and wounded all four.

A few days after the explosion, Newton said, she and other relief workers were working to provide prosthetic arms for the teenager, but he suddenly died.

"It was heartbreaking," Newton said. "It made me feel for humanity."

She also was sprayed with tear gas, she said, by members of the Israeli Defense Forces during a protest in Bil'in, a village in the Palestinian West Bank territories.

Such experiences shocked Newton, who enjoyed a fairly normal childhood growing up in east Hillsborough County. Born in Oklahoma, she and her siblings were raised mostly in Apollo Beach.

She went to Zephyrhills Middle School in Pasco County and East Bay High School in Gibsonton before attending USF.

After graduation and between aid missions, she lived with a boyfriend in a mother-in-law suite in Seminole Heights - "actually, it was a shack," she said - and worked as a server.

But last fall, after dumping the shack and the boyfriend, Newton decided she could be a lot more effective overseas.

Many of the humanitarian relief opportunities she checked out on ReliefWeb ( required at least a master's degree. The Sudanese internship paid little, just $100 per month, but she decided it was the best plan.

She still doesn't know exactly what she'll be doing, she said, other than helping with an effort to create a functioning justice system in Darfur: "I'll just have to find out when I get there."

Newton spent recent months trying to raise money to pay for the trip and the expenses she'll incur in Sudan.

In addition to working at the Starbucks on Hillsborough Avenue, she and friends washed cars out back as a fundraiser in December.

She originally planned to leave for Africa two months ago, but her departure was delayed several times due to visa issues. Those concerns still were being ironed out as Newton planned to depart for New York City, and then Sudan, today.

She's planning to stay at a hostel to begin with, but it's $14 per night. That's a little pricey when you're earning less than $3.50 per day.

So even in Africa, Newton said, it looks like she'll have to track down another kind soul with a couch.

Rick Gershman can be reached at or 226-3431.

Sara's blog

Visit on the Web for more information on Sara Newton's trip.

[Last modified January 4, 2007, 21:56:04]

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