Youth Canada

Darfur – A Lost Cause? How You Can Make a Difference

13-08-2008 by Toshio Rahman

Darfur – A Lost Cause? How You Can Make a Difference

My African brother’s name is Ishmael. Though we do not share the same birth mother, we have different skin colors and we have never met, he is still my brother. You see, on the one hand, he and I have the same basic human tendencies – to dream, to want, to like, to dislike; yet, on the other, he has experienced something that I, like the majority of people, never have.

At the innocent age of six, Ishmael’s village was attacked by the ‘Janjaweed’ and the Sudanese military; an event that not only forced Ishmael to watch his own father be shot and killed, but also caused his mother to collapse from shock and die shortly afterwards. In a matter of mere minutes, Ishmael became an orphan. Shockingly, for the
perpetrators of these crimes, the experience Ishmael had just undergone was not sufficient enough. He was taken and thrown into a burning fire; a fate many young Darfuri boys face. Unlike many of those other children however, Ishmael was fortunate enough to be rescued by his grandmother before he burned to death.

Though this ghastly event occurred nearly four years ago, Ishmael’s burned and disabled arm has served as a ‘death’ in itself for him, restricting him from living a normal everyday life. My brother Ishamel is a survivor of the crisis in Darfur.1

Ishmael, like many of the people of Darfur, are of black African descent and have lived for many years in an oppressive state imposed by Khartoum (the capital city of Sudan), where the Arab African government has established a racist tradition of taking care of its own kind before others. In 2003, rebel groups from the Darfur region, who were representing this marginalized minority, attacked various government targets to gain the attention of a neglectful government. The response from the government was the establishment of one of the most gruesome and violent conflicts of our time. Khartoum hired a local militia force know as the ‘Janjaweed’ to enter into the Darfur region - destroying villages, pillaging homes and killing as many innocent people as they could; though the government has not admitted this publicly.

As the five year anniversary of the beginning of the conflict approaches, we have seen nearly 2.5 million refugees displaced from their homes and over 450,000 people killed. Besides being forced from their dwellings, the crisis has cause many of the victims of the conflict to endure severe medical illnesses, starvation, dehydration, torture, burnings, disfigurement, systematic rape and brutal and inhumane slaughter.

To make matters worse, the refugee camps in both the Darfur region as well as Eastern Chad (where many of the refugees have found their way), have proved to be problematic in providing effective aid. Not only can this reality be attributed to a lack of funds, supplies and personnel within the camps themselves, but also because these areas are very prone to attacks by the ‘Janjaweed.’ It is not uncommon that when a woman leaves the camp to gather firewood for basic survival in nearby areas, they are at high risk for being raped by multiple ‘Janjaweed’ members, beaten and in some cases murdered.

Unfortunately, just as the international community failed to stop the genocide in Rwanda, they are failing once again in Darfur; making the infamous phrase of “Never again,” one of mere hypocrisy. This is not to say that the international community has done nothing in Darfur, as they did send in African Union troops to the area in 2004 (a year after the conflict began) and very recently, implemented the hybrid UNAMID force as a replacement to the deteriorating AU troops. However due to a shortage of essential equipment and personnel, as well as an unclear mandate, these soldiers have had a front row seat to one of the worse humanitarian crisis of our time.

You may be thinking to yourself at this point, “Gee…this is awful, but what can I do to make a difference?” Though this evil is occurring half away around the world from us, in a place most of us have never even heard of before, the simple truth is that we as human beings and young Canadians can make change.

Living in this country we are given one particular means that we take much too often for granted – a means that our fellow human beings in Darfur do not have: the freedom to stand up and speak against injustices we see, without the fear of repercussion or penalty.

Our voice is a powerful tool. If we come together and stand for what we believe in, our ‘choir of voices’ will be impossible to overlook and it will be from this that real change will happen.

When it comes to the case of Darfur, we have many ways to bring about change; some of which are immense, others smaller - but all truly effective. The following are some of the things you can do:

• Call and leave a message for the Prime Minister, Minister of Foreign Affairs and/ or the Leader of the Liberal Party at 1-800-Genocide (Ideas for what to say can be found at http://www.standcanada.org/)

• Donate your time and/or money to an NGO that provides humanitarian assistance in the Darfur region (Oxfam Canada, Waging Peace Canada and UNICEF Canada are good ones)

• Speak out against the human rights violations Darfuri’s are facing and demand for change be taken (Check out Amnesty International Canada’s webpage for ideas - http://www.amnesty.ca )

• Raise awareness about what is going on in Darfur by giving a presentation on it in your classes, getting your teacher to lecture about it, writing an article to your local newspaper/magazine, etc

• Hold some type of school/club/community fundraiser and donate all the money to one of the organizations listed above

• Participate in the 2008 Youth Darfur Conference; an event which will bring youth of all ages, backgrounds and disciplines together to discuss crucial issues relating to the Darfur conflict (Check out www.darfur2008.com for more information and to register).

No matter which action you choose, the important thing is that you do something for Darfur. I believe that the more youth that get involved in not only this critical issue, but any of the ‘troubles’ occurring in the world, we as a community will progress closer to the utopia you, I and Ishmael dream of.

1Background taken from “Ishmael’s Journal,” from Waging Peace Canada.(http://www.wpcanada.org/id9.html)



TOSHIO RAHMAN is currently an intern at Amnesty International in Vancouver, BC, where he is organizing the 2008 Youth Darfur Conference. He attended West Point Grey Academy for his secondary education and graduated last year from Carleton University in Ottawa with a BA Honors in Political Science.

If you have any questions or comments for Toshio or about the conference, please email him at darfur2008@gmail.com.

Image courtesy of user "lil'bear" at Flickr.com via Creative Commons License.
http://www.flickr.com/photos/lilbear/302546669/

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