May 10, 2006
Agony In Darfur: Faith Leaders Rally Against Genocide
The images are stark and shattering.
Babies shot and killed while cradled in their mothers' arms. Men, women, children, slaughtered mercilessly as they run for salvation. Fifteen-year-old girls, raped and ravaged after watching their parents die.
Welcome to Darfur. According to savedarfur.org, at least 300,000 people have died since the genocide began in the western Darfur region of Sudan in February of 2003. It is one of the worst carnages ever to take place in the history of the world, with approximately 3.5 million trying desperately to survive a government-sponsored campaign of horrific torture and forced starvation.
And yet, there are countless Americans who know nothing about the crisis.
Last week, members of the Cutchogue Presbyterian Church set out to open some eyes. The congregation sponsored a showing of Darfur: A 21st Century Genocide, as well as a discussion after the film.
The event, said congregant Gwynn Schroeder, was to raise awareness, and grew out of a mission called Wider Circle Project, sparked by congregant Jane Starwood. The Wider Circle was designed to "act as a clearinghouse for AIDS, poverty, and hunger so people could get information."
Schroeder said that slowly, awareness about the atrocities in Darfur is growing, especially after an April 30 rally in Washington, DC, during which 750,000 postcards were delivered from citizens demanding an end to the carnage in Darfur. Celebrities such as George Clooney spoke out against the horrors: "If we turn our heads and look away and hope that it will all disappear then they will — all of them, an entire generation of people. And we will have only history left to judge us."
Most recently, said Schroeder, a New York Times article reported that a citizen army had helped to orchestrate a tentative "peace deal" between the Sudanese government and the largest Darfur rebel faction last Friday.
But, said Schroeder, there are still countless refugees faced with the horrors of death and displacement.
Seeds of change, said Schroeder, can be planted in communities of faith such as Cutchogue Presbyterian. "People have to just say this is wrong. And do whatever they can do to raise awareness."
And it is clear that something must be done. Information provided on savedarfur.org, states that if the security situation continues to falter and the humanitarian aid life-support system collapses, the casualty rate could rise to as high as 100,000 per month, according to United Nations official Jan Egeland.
Recently the United Nations announced that from May onward, daily rations of food in Darfur would be at half the minimum amount required each day.
Schroeder describes a scene in Hotel Rwanda where journalists are being evacuated. "The hotel manager tells an American photographer, 'You've got to tell people about this. You've got to let them know.'" The photographer, said Schroeder, responded, 'People will know, and then they'll go back to eating their dinner. What can you do about it?"
There are many ways in which individuals can help. First, they can take part in the Million Voices for Darfur campaign (www.MillionVoicesForDarfur.org) and send a postcard to President Bush urging further action on Darfur. Another option is to reach out and lobby elected officials with letters, calls, and e-mails. For more information go to savedarfur.org.