Students fight to save Darfur

By Elizabeth Brachelli and Kather
March 15, 2007

Lana Slazic/Catholic Relief Services

With over 400,000 dead, 2.5 million displaced and 10,000 dying every month since 2003, students are raising awareness and taking action to help the people of Darfur, Sudan.

The lives of people in the western Sudan region of Darfur, have been claimed by the continuous genocide. The ongoing conflict began in February of 2003, with two Darfurian rebel groups rising against the Khartoum government of the Sudanese capital.

The rebel groups, who identify as African peasants and Arab nomadic herders, felt the need to take a stand against the Khartoum government. The rebel groups launched an uprising as they faced poverty, neglect and the need for greater resources. The Sudanese government responded by putting down the rebels with a group of vicious hired military called Janjaweed, a militia drawn from members of Arab tribes, to attack the rebel groups.

Although the Darfur genocide does not appear in the news often, college students around the nation are taking a lead in bringing it to the attention of the nation and its leaders.

Jessica Morales, a junior political science major at Rosemont College and Villanova University and the Mid-Atlantic Regional Outreach Coordinator for A Student Anti-Genocide Coalition, said, “The best way to stop genocide is to become involved.”

One way students are reaching out to the people of Darfur is by starting STAND chapters on their campuses. STAND is the biggest student movement across the country and it is now becoming international. Morales, who answers to new chapter requests every day, arranges for speakers to be on college campuses to raise awareness and eventually get students involved to become life-long activists. Also, Morales organizes protests, conference calls with other chapters and assists with writing chapter constitutions.

Morales said, “The idea is that this will be the last genocide.”

As the people of Darfur continue to face the genocide, they also are battling villages being torched, malnutrition, diseases and women being raped.

Since 2004, when President Bush declared Darfur a national genocide, efforts for humanitarians to reach out to the people of Darfur have been restricted by the Sudanese government, according to the New York Times.

Catholic Relief Services representatives around the country are also reaching out to the people of Darfur. CRS has helped more than 150,000 people across West Darfur by providing food, shelter, clean water and sanitation, education and agriculture support.

Scott LeFevre, CRS Regional Representative for the Horn of Africa, said, “These societies need to be nourished in a very peaceful way.”

After spending seven years in Africa, LeFevre works in the states while educating people on the crisis in Darfur and working with advocacy groups. Although LeFevre is not now in Africa, there are CRS representatives in Darfur. Also, there is a CRS office located in Juba, the capital of southern Sudan since 2005.

LeFevre said, “We’re there building relationships.”

LeFevre encourages students to take action by focusing on one thing. Whether it is participating in activities such as fundraising, donating, events, educating other and hosting workshops, LeFevre believes that’s the best way to take action.

LeFevre said, “This is solidarity in action.”

Starting in June of 2006 and ending in February of 2007, Erin Heaney, a sophomore political science major at Swarthmore College and National Conference Coordinator for STAND, gained the attention of approximately 700 to 800 students and reached out to 200 of the 600 chapters of STAND to raise awareness and gain advocates for the genocide in Darfur, Sudan, by planning six regional conferences at Northwestern University, Swarthmore University, Brown University, Colorado University at Boulder, Emory University and Berkeley University.

Heaney said, “Watching participants grow from not knowing anything about the issue, and then to being an active participant in taking action is great.”

Heaney became involved with STAND on Swarthmore’s campus in Fall of 2005 and became involved on a national level in June of 2006 by assuming the role of National Conference coordinator for STAND.

Heaney hosts weekly STAND meetings on Swarthmore’s campus that are very similar to all the meetings the chapters in the Mid-Atlantic region hold. Currently, there are 25 active participants and approximately 125 people on Swarthmore’s current mailing list for STAND. Their meetings begin with a discussion of the latest news alerts on the ongoing genocide in Darfur, Sudan. After reviewing the articles the participants break off into three groups, the advocacy group, which creates letter campaigns for congress, the community outreach group, which is in charge of speaking engagements with high school students, and the fundraising group, which provides the funds for the students to participate in activities to raise awareness.

Heaney said, “I find it rewarding to raise awareness about this issue and then watch other people learn more about the issue and become involved.”

Heaney and Morales actively participate in pushing for key legislation to make sure that Congress is doing its part to protect civilians in Darfur. A new campaign, Darfur report cards, has been put in place to gain the attention of members of Congress to take action action. Each individual report card has the elected official’s name, his or her grade, a complete listing of all key legislation he or she has and has not supported. As of right now, Congress is averaging a “C” for its efforts to end the genocide in Darfur, Sudan, according to STAND.org.

Morales said, “It’s a really effective way of holding Congress accountable. Who wants an “F” in genocide intervention?”

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Elizabeth Brachelli and Kather

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