I became active in the Darfur movement in late 2004. I did not know exactly how I’d be able to participate in alleviating what was and continues to be overwhelming human suffering. I just knew I needed to act.
One of the very first campaigns I helped create and organize was a 100-Day Fast for Darfur. My sister Rachel and I thought fasting would be a good way to connect people with the issue, while at the same time fundraise for direct assistance for the survivors. I had no idea how deep of an experience it was going to be for me and for the many people that participated in that and other fasts we organized since.
2013 is considered the 10th anniversary of the start of the crisis in Darfur. After ten years, millions of people continue to live in internal and refugee camps, with new generations of Darfuri children knowing no other life than the life of a refugee or IDP. Fighting, killing, and displacement continues in Darfur and is also happening in other areas of Sudan. When I started working on the peace for Darfur movement, I never thought that in 2013 I would be organizing another fast to offer hope and support to a population that continues to be besieged.
Fasting can be powerful. Clearly, for us in the United States and other well-off countries, it is not necessarily dangerous or even a sacrifice. We know that at any moment, we can walk into our kitchen or direct our car to the nearest drive-thru, and our “hunger” will be taken care of. It is meaningful, though, because it makes us think about something we take for granted, when our next meal will be. For those that fast without an option, the question is much more urgent: Will there be a next meal for me and my children?
I am lucky that over the years I have also been able to focus on the beauty and hope that exists in the communities of survivors from Darfur. They are hopeful and actively involved in creating a better future for their children. They value education and sports, and they are excited about connecting with the rest of the world.
The 2013 100-Day Fast for Darfur is about connecting. It’s about connecting as communities and as individuals. It’s about saying “10 years is enough.” Join me in fasting and connecting with our Darfuri friends that have lost so much–but who have so much more to offer. I promise you it will be an experience you won’t forget.
Please join our 100-Day Fast for Darfur.
I haven’t had much of a chance to write anything since we arrived here in Chad. There has been so much to do, from always trying to get the best shot to trying to effectively convey what went on each day in a 2-minute video that won’t be too expensive to upload via satellite, since we don’t reliably have wireless internet.
I want to capture every moment, and I’m even trying to perfect shooting video with one hand while I shoot stills over my shoulder with the other. It’s not easy. Nothing about this expedition is easy.
Yet, at the same time – it is. Our journey is over half over, and before long we will be returning to the United States. To our families and friends. To our familiar way of life. The hardships we endure here are so short-lived in comparison to that of the people we’ve met.
I tend to deal with everything with a very dark sense of humor, cracking jokes to make light of some of the worst situations – yet on this trip I have found myself utterly speechless on many occasion. When Umbda or Abdulaziz or anyone with a story to tell begins to speak, a silence befalls the group and we listen, hypnotized, until the last word. There are no jokes here – neither are there answers, easy solutions, or in some cases much hope. Yet the human spirit fights on.
This week I have beared witness to some of the bravest people on earth looking into a camera and telling their stories. Stories that could get them killed. Stories we’d like to turn away from and not hear. Stories that show us humans can be cruel and evil to one another.
Sure, I miss the comforts of home.
I’m certain they do as well.
Back home, I’m connected at all times. My Blackberry is attached to my hand. I don’t think it could fall out, even if I tried to drop it. My Mac is control central for all my activities and communication. E-mails, blogs, tweets, Facebook posts, and many more forms of reaching out and listening in are almost non-stop. On a regular basis, I connect through video chat with my team — always at night, since they all have other “regular” jobs. I’m always connected!
I’m still pretty amazed at being able to connect for a live streaming video feed, in pretty good quality, all the way from Eastern Chad, where there is no infrastructure and definitely no wifi. We do this with a few things we carry in one backpack.
Today, we facilitated what was called a Live School Assembly from Camp Goz Amer. Students and teachers from this refugee camp gathered to answer questions from people, many of them students, from the United States and other parts of the world. It was streaming live through the internet, and people could send in their questions, real time. As our friend the Umda, or camp leader, said, “This is the first time we connect with the outside world like this.”
The violence the refugees experienced and which forced them from their homes occurred without anyone watching or listening. They walked across the desert, many of them dying along the way, without anyone watching or listening. They have now been living here for about eight years, and they feel disconnected from the world and from having influence about major issues related to their home–Darfur–and their lives. Blackberries and Macs won’t change this for our friends here. There has to be real and sincere listening on the other side. After listening, there has to be immediate action.
Rahma was so excited to receive a camera for the day. He enthusiastically taught his sister, Zaineb, and Bashir how to use the ‘quick camera’ (still camera), as they call it, and Bashar to use a video camera. The quick cameras, like most found in the United States, also record video, but we thought to keep it simple we would only show them how to take still photos. But by the end of the day they proved just how keen and smart they are. When we met them to collect their cameras, they were snapping photos, turning the camera to preview mode, and showing us their masterpieces! As we downloaded everything later we realized that many of the images on the quick cameras were actually videos! At one point we can see Rahma, Zanieb, their brothers Alhadi and Mansur, and the twins, Bashir and Bashar sitting in a circle determined to figure out all the elements of the cameras. These are the photographs and videos that our refugee friends want to share with you . Their lives, through their eyes.
View the results here