Horror in Sudan: why is the world standing by?
Angry that countries aren’t doing more to protect the millions in danger in Darfur, Sarah, 16, found ways that she can help people half a world away.
I didn’t know until last year that there was genocide happening in Africa, when I heard my parents talking about how several hundred thousand people had been killed in the Darfur region of western Sudan. I was so upset that I didn’t want to talk about it. Instead, I cried in my room feeling angry and hopeless. As a teenager on the other side of the world, I didn’t think there was anything I could do. My dark moments scared me. I thought I could avoid them if I pushed Darfur to the back of my mind. But my conscience wouldn’t let me ignore the brutality jeopardizing the lives of more than 2.7 million people.
Being Jewish had a lot to do with my fear, as well as my desire to do something. Jews endured their own genocide in World War II. During the Holocaust, the Nazis organized the mass murder of 6 million Jews, so generally we feel strongly about stopping “ethnic cleansing.” Unfortunately, this is usually because we’ve had the Holocaust shoved down our throats from the minute we could read. I was so horrified by descriptions of children burning to ashes, of death trains and gas chambers that they entered my thoughts and invaded my dreams, sometimes making me feel as if I’d been there myself. Worst of all, I knew if I’d been there, I would have died the same way.
That’s why hearing about the genocide in Darfur paralyzed me with terror. I always try to put myself in other people’s shoes, but relating to someone in Darfur was too painful. Blocking my emotions was my way of dealing with the genocide without breaking down. But I soon realized that the only way to get rid of my despair was through action.
In April, my synagogue offered a chance for a group of teens to go to Washington, D.C. and represent Reform Jewish values at a conference. I’m not very fond of politics, but the conference gave me a wake-up call. There were seminars about Darfur among other moral, social and economic issues. I didn’t go to the ones about Darfur because they sounded too depressing. But my group toured the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, where I received a handout about the Darfur genocide. One quote from a refugee stuck in my mind: “The Arabs want to get rid of anyone with black skin. … There are no blacks left.” Seeing the genocide in such plain terms made me resolve to stop moping and do something.
My first thought was to raise awareness by writing this article. Soon I found myself digging into every nasty account I came across.
I learned from SaveDarfur.org that in 2003, two rebel groups, mainly composed of African peasants, attacked government buildings as a way to speak out against their racism-fueled oppression. Sudan’s government dealt with the rebels by sending a brutal militia called the Janjaweed, mostly from nomadic Arab tribes, to “clear … areas considered disloyal to the Sudanese government.” Basically, the Janjaweed (meaning “devil on horseback”) are paid by the government to wipe out an entire race of people. The United Nations has labeled it “the worst humanitarian crisis of our time,” yet few leaders of major countries have done much to help.
Thousands die each month
While you won’t hear much about this in the media, New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof has written many horrifying accounts of how the Janjaweed raid villages, murder the men, rape the women and enslave the children. In one column, he wrote about two young women who were “forced to cook for the Janjaweed troops” and even “accept being raped by them.” And when their father begged the Janjaweed commander to set his daughters free, the commander beheaded him right before their eyes. He quoted an aid worker who said: “They told me they just wanted to die.”
In May, my synagogue joined the Jewish World Watch, an organization that promotes awareness about and provides aid in Darfur. A speaker from Jewish World Watch talked to our synagogue about the genocide. He said that since 2003, 15,000 people a month have been killed. He compared it to “filling up the Hollywood Bowl once a month, and suddenly having them all disappear.”
Estimates of the number of people killed vary from 200,000 to more than 400,000, because it’s difficult to get a precise count. More than 2.5 million others have been pushed out of their homes into refugee camps where many starve because of inadequate rations.
Everyone who heard this news was very grave, hopelessly shaking their heads. I was shocked. I’ve been to the Hollywood Bowl before, and had this image of a packed audience getting swept away by a huge gust of wind—although what happens in Darfur is obviously so much worse than wind. This forced me to face the awful reality: these people aren’t just statistics, but individuals who are being murdered.
You may be really upset over this, too. But don’t get discouraged—steps are being taken to stop the genocide. On Sept. 17, hundreds of thousands of people rallied across the world to draw attention to the ongoing conflict in Sudan and the need for the United Nations to send in armed forces. This is especially important because the Darfur Peace Agreement, signed in May between the government and the largest rebel group in the Sudan, has not stopped the violence.
I used to think nothing I did mattered, and still do sometimes, but there are things we can do. Visit the Web site SaveDarfur.org to send an e-mail postcard to President Bush, asking him not to turn a blind eye. Wear a green wristband or sell them at your school. (You can order them from SaveDarfur.org.) Ask people to make donations to humanitarian organizations (see list).
My synagogue is selling green wristbands to raise money and awareness. I saved up my allowance and donated $200 to Jewish World Watch. One of its projects is to purchase solar ovens for the women of Darfur, which could spare them the danger of having to leave the protection of their villages to collect firewood. Two hundred dollars bought 10 solar ovens. When I learned this I felt like crying, to know that my contribution could make the lives of 10 families a little easier.
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