Students come to Darfur’s aid, prepare for rally

By Cody Prentiss

When Avery Ju got back to her apartment at the end of a long Friday night, she found a heartwarming sight: Her roommate was typing up a plan for a nonprofit group dedicated to aiding Darfur.

That night, Ju, International Student Organization president, and her roommate had spent the evening watching the documentary Darfur Now at Columbia’s Film Row Cinema in the 1104 Center, 1104 S. Wabash Ave.

The showing was organized by the ISO as an ongoing effort to raise awareness among students about the conflict in Sudan, which has displaced more than 2 million Sudanese people from their homes. The organization is now helping organize an April 19 rally in Chicago. At this point, about 35 student groups are involved, ranging from high schools to youth groups.

Ju said she was happy about the show’s turnout and was glad so many people showed up on a Friday night. She said the entire experience affected her in a profound way.

“You come to realize how much you have, instead of how much you don’t have,” she said.

Proceeds from the film showing went to the International Rescue Committee, a large aid organization active in Darfur, Sudan. President Omar Hassan Ahmad Al-Bashir recently expelled the Rescue Committee and 12 other aid organizations from Sudan in response to an arrest warrant issued by the International Criminal Court.

On March 4, the International Criminal Court issued a warrant for Al-Bashir’s arrest for war crimes and crimes against humanity and genocide. The ICC alleges he is criminally responsible for attacks on Darfur’s civilian population meant to cut off supplies to the Sudanese Liberation Movement/Army and the Justice and Equality Movement and the murder, extermination, rape, torture and forcible transfer of large numbers of Sudanese people, and theft of their property.

The International Student Organization’s current project, the April 19 rally, will be held at Federal Plaza, 50 W. Adams St. Ju said the group was contacted by Ethan Barhydt, the high school student who initially came up with the idea for the rally. The organization is acting as a liaison between the different groups and will rent equipment.

Amnesty International, American Jewish World Service and Students Take Action Now: Darfur are sponsoring the rally. Its goal is to raise at least $10,000 for Sister School Program and Sudanese Community Center and garner more media attention on the issue.

Panelist Onam Liduba discussed his experience in Darfur after the March 6 screening of Darfur, Now. He was separated from his parents as a child in one of Sudan’s civil wars and forced out of the country along with 27,000 other boys. They walked to Ethiopia and then to Kenya with no shelter and little water. Liduba said of the 27,000 boys who walked, only 16,000 made it to Kenya. With help from the U.S. State Department, many of them were able to settle in the United States.

Liduba is now the president of the Chicago Association for the Lost Boys of Sudan. He said it was a big change going from Kenya to Chicago.

“With the help of people we met here, we make it easy,” Liduba said. “We have volunteers, some students who can visit us and take us around the city.”

He said the group welcomes anybody who wants to volunteer, including students. The association is trying to enroll the rest of the Lost Boys in school. He said they already have some in universities and community colleges, but they need help raising funds to keep them there.

Liberal education faculty member Stephanie Shonekan earned her bachelors and masters degree in Nigeria and moderated the discussion after the film. She said she’s heard more and more students talking about the issue in class, and if students want to be involved she said they should educate themselves about the issues and make contacts with other activists.

“We should just keep going,” Shonekan said. “Everything we do, every type of awareness that we champion, every penny we put into it is definitely worth it. We wouldn’t have gotten to this stage without that energy.”