Genocide in Darfur: How we can and are helping

Lauren Piro

In February 2003, violence and rebellion erupted in Sudan. Marginalized and neglected people of the non-Arab Fur, Masalit and Zaghawa ethnic groups in Darfur coalesced as two rebel groups, the Sudan Liberation Army/Movement and the Justice and Equality Movement. They demanded government action to put an end to their economic depression, as well as to give them a voice in the Arab-run Sudanese government. What they received was a brutal response that became a war and what many today consider to be genocide.

The Arab tribe Janjaweed, Sudanese government-supported militia (although support of their practices is often denied by political leaders in Sudan), went on a brutal spree, targeting civilians of the rebel tribes – pillaging and destroying villages, raping women and murdering countless numbers of people. According to Amnesty International, as well as many other non-profit Darfur-awareness organizations and as found in U.N. data, at least 200,000 people have died due to violence and disease, with another 2.5 million displaced as fleeing refugees, either internally to other parts of Sudan or to another country such as Chad. However, as reported by in March, Sudanese President Omar el-Bashir has stated that the severity of the crisis is merely a “media-fabrication” and that fewer than 10,000 have died and less than 500,000 have been displaced – figures generally unaccepted by non-profit groups rallying against the conflict.

Hence, what the globe has been left with is a grave yet misunderstood situation. What is actually going on and how has this turned into a global concern? What exactly is being done to help and how is it helping? What is being considered analogous to the 100-day Rwandan genocide of 1994 has lasted five years, leaving Americans, particularly students, who are often asked to support one of many causes, confused and unsure.

Junior Kate Dembroski is one of many Villanova students who wishes she knew more about the conflict and how donated money is going to help.

“While I do know about the conflict and the issues that burden the region, I don’t think I fully understand the issue or what the world is doing to help,” she says.

Beth Awalt, a sophomore and activities chair of Villanova’s chapter of STAND, a student anti-genocide coalition, echoes these sentiments about the perception of Darfur.

“I almost feel like Darfur … was like a fad for a lot of people,” she says. “Not for everyone though. I feel like there are many people who are involved in what’s going on, very concerned about it.”

Awalt describes how STAND at Villanova gained steam at the beginning of this year but eventually lost momentum as people became involved with additional social justice movements or different on-campus organizations.

“I feel like people who aren’t really into social justice as much do know that there’s a genocide going on but don’t really have enough time to follow up on it,” she says.

So what is happening in response to the genocide in Darfur? And how can students become more informed and involved?

A good place to begin one’s education on the international response to the genocide is to look to the United Nations. In 2006, with the violence escalating in Sudan, the United Nations approved its own Darfur peacekeeping force. Today this initiative is known as UNAMID. According to the U.N. Web site, UNAMID “has the protection of civilians as its core mandate, as well as contributing to security for humanitarian assistance, monitoring and verifying implementation of agreements, assisting an inclusive political process, contributing to the promotion of human rights and rule of law and monitoring and reporting on the situation along the borders with Chad and the CAR.”

At the beginning of 2008, 9,000 UNAMID troops were deployed to the Sudan in hopes of abetting an end to the violence and human suffering, with plans to increase that number to 26,000. The U.N. Web site also states that “more than $650 million [in U.S. dollars] in aid to Darfur [was] planned for 2007 by the U.N. and its partners, and more than 12,000 humanitarian workers are deployed in the region to bring assistance to those affected by the crisis.”

Villanova’s STAND chapter participated in DarfurFast in the fall, asking students to give up one thing for a day and donate the money they would have spent on it to UNAMID instead. According to Kevin Riley, a sophomore and president of Villanova’s STAND, the group here raised $3,500, the most of any college in the country.

“One of the biggest things that they’re [UNAMID] working on right now is trying to prevent women from having to go look for firewood because that’s where a lot of rape and murder occurs, when women have to leave their refugee camps or their villages,” he says. “UNAMID puts the money on the ground, and with the money we send them they can give them either kerosene lamps or some sort of heating so they don’t have to go look for firewood.”

Many other non-profit organizations have been making strides, promoting awareness and raising money to stop the genocide. Save Darfur is a coalition of over 100 humanitarian organizations, some providing money and others traveling to the region to offer hands-on assistance on the ground. However, most look forward to ultimately promoting awareness and education with the hopes of inducing pressure on the government for more action.

Awalt believes this last idea is something everyone can do, even on an individual basis. STAND has participated actively in letter-writing campaigns promoting bills for Darfur aid, and many organizations have e-mail templates for such campaigns that can be quickly filled out to be sent to local politicians, according to Awalt.

“It’s really important for your Congress-people to know how their constituents feel on a particular issue,” she says.

Awalt and Riley both stress the idea of pressuring the government and other organizations to divest from Sudan – pulling financial support from the country by stopping the purchase of its products, such as oil. This issue extends most seriously to China, which, according to, is Sudan’s “closest economic, military and political partner” and continues to invest in Sudanese oil as well as provide them with weaponry. Such practice is part of the root of protests against the upcoming Olympic Games in Beijing, dubbed by some as indirectly supporting genocide. Dreams for Darfur, a non-profit in which actress Mia Farrow is involved, puts pressure on China to stop investment. STAND at Villanova has also gotten the University involved in divestment.

“Villanova has completely divested its funds,” Awalt says. “We are not buying anything from Sudan.”

Save Darfur asked the 2008 presidential candidates (Clinton, McCain and Obama) their feelings on the Darfur situation. All three, in their own way, endorse promoting action to support peace-keeping campaigns aimed at Darfur, recognize the problem with China and remember the United States’ promise to “never again” let genocide occur. The interviews can be seen on

So how can Villanovans get involved in this vast initiative? A quick search on the Save Darfur Web site for area code 19085 brings up five options for organizations within 10 miles of the University. VU’s STAND is the first one listed.

On April 24, STAND will sponsor a “Voices from Darfur” event in the Connelly Cinema. The presentation will involve a short documentary and speakers who survived their time in Darfur and now tell their stories.

“The mission is to put a face to the atrocities with hopes that students will do more and try to raise awareness,” Riley says.

Both Awalt and Riley say they believe there is more to be done to stop the violence and hope to continue raising awareness to help more students understand the conflict.

“It’s something that does affect us as much as we think it doesn’t,” he says. “It’s something that we can change.”