Putting Darfur on the Map

    Every day, a young girl goes out to gather wood for the fire. And every time she does this, she is raped. When her mother was asked why she doesn’t just send her son out to gather firewood instead, she said that if she did that, her son would be dead. By sending out her daughter, it would only be rape. Gabriel Stauring, co-founder of Stop Genocide Now and Camp Darfur, recounted the woman’s story to Reach Out to Darfur, March 10.

    Jennifer Hsu/Guardian

    “”Believe it or not, the rape victims are the lucky people,”” he said.

    In February 2003, two Darfurian rebel groups launched an uprising against the Khartoum government over the neglect for the Sudanese people that left many in poverty. The Sudanese government in the capital city of Khartoum enlisted the Janjaweed militia, which has used organized starvation, rape, displacement and murder as negotiation and scare tactics. Over 400,000 innocent Darfurians have been murdered and over 2.5 million have been displaced, raped and starved. Millions of Darfurians are now living in refugee camps away from their homes and families.

    In order for Darfur to achieve peace, the Sudanese government, the Janjaweed militia and Darfur’s rebel groups must resolve their political disputes. Although the international community managed to broker a peace deal in May 2006, the violence in Darfur has actually increased.

    Saturday’s event, “”A Hand Is Only as Powerful as How Far It Reaches … Reach Out to Darfur”” was hosted by Tahiya Sultan, a junior at Westview High School and president and founder of Westview’s Students Taking Action Now: Darfur and co-hosted by Thurgood Marshall College senior Jenn Shin, who is also the president of Amnesty International at UCSD.

    “”There isn’t much awareness on the genocide in Darfur,”” Sultan said. “”I had people ask me if Darfur was a band or if Darfur was in the Middle East. I just want to get together and raise awareness, and to show that there is life outside of the bubble that we live in. There is a genocide occurring while we’re worrying about what to wear to school.””

    Westview S.T.A.N.D. and Amnesty International at UCSD put together eye-opening presentations on the atrocities that are occurring in Darfur, the western region of Sudan. Five speakers, a documentary, a raffle and an art auction helped raise money, about $4,000 halfway through the night, but Sultan said that was not the focus.

    “”[The event] was mainly about bringing the community to show what is going on, to make a starting point for a movement against genocide,”” she said.

    Shin hopes that people who attended the event will initiate conversation, dialogue and provocative thoughts that will educate the San Diego community.

    “”Events like this can serve as a catalyst for future ones,”” Shin said.

    According to Zacharia Diing Akol, a Sudanese refugee from the Second Sudanese Civil War and a speaker at the event, organization is most important in beginning to help fix Darfur.

    “”When I see people organized together, when I see high school kids being organized, I get excited,”” he said. “”A lot of social changes happen because of organization.””

    Two years ago, President George W. Bush labeled the conflict in Darfur as “”genocide”” at a U.N. conference, but, according to Akol, nothing has happened.

    “”It doesn’t make sense to label something and not to do anything,”” he said. “”Establishing that it’s genocide is not sufficient.””

    Akol was raised in Sudan, and for the most part, enjoyed his life with the people he loved, just like everyone else. That changed when he was 9 years old. He had to flee the country when the government troops attacked villages in southern Sudan, similar to what is now happening in Darfur.

    “”What is happening in Darfur today is not new,”” Akol said. “”The tactics aren’t even new. The only thing that has changed [from the killings of the Sudanese Civil War] is the group, the Janjaweed. The Sudanese government just doesn’t care.””

    Adam Sterling, the director of the Sudan Divestment Task Force, a project of the Genocide Intervention Network, was happy to see so many young people caring enough to spend their Saturday night at Eleanor Roosevelt College’s Great Hall.

    At the end of his speech, he asked all of the high school students who had helped put together the event to stand. Over 40 students stood.

    “”These are the faces of genocide prevention,”” he said.

    Sultan said it is sometimes difficult to attract young people to these important issues because they are not in the media enough.

    “”We hear more about Anna Nicole Smith’s death than the millions of deaths in Darfur,”” she said. “”It’s not apathy; it’s lack of awareness. If we hear about it, it’s hard to be apathetic. We should be helping each other; we’re all human beings, we all have power to create change. Apathy is not a solution.””

    Stauring said to imagine ourselves in the Darfurians’ positions.

    “”If we knew what we know now at the beginning of the Holocaust, what would we do?”” Stauring said. “”That is what is happening in Darfur right now. We can do so much more.””

    Akol, who is now working toward getting his master’s degree in peace and justice studies at the University of San Diego, stresses that the Sudanese should be allowed to live with their families in their homes without fear.

    “”I want to let people enjoy the rights of being a human being,”” he said.

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