Siena Hosts Darfur Awareness Events

Jocelyn Thomas Features

LOUDONVILLE, N.Y. – Siena College held a variety of events on its campus to commemorate Darfur Week, a national awareness week established by Franciscans International, from March 19 to 23.

Darfur Week is the response of Franciscan colleges and universities to the conflict and humanitarian crisis in Darfur and the surrounding region, according to Paul Ronan of FI who said that Darfur week aims to empower students and Franciscan colleges and universities to pursue three goals.

They are:
●    Raise awareness about the ongoing humanitarian crisis and the failure of the international community to respond effectively and fulfill its R2P in Darfur.
●    Build a network of Darfur advocates at Franciscan colleges and universities.
●    Join the global movement urging the international community to fulfill its R2P and end the conflict in Darfur and the surrounding region.

At Siena, the International Programs Office, Franciscans International, the Franciscan Center for Service and Advocacy, and the Sr. Thea Bowman Women’s Center offered several activities. On Monday, students were invited to Darfur Week Opening at which  African music, a fair trade chocolate sale and petition for economic sanctions to help stop the genocide were provided.

On Wednesday, March 21, a program called Women and Girls in Darfur outside Serra Hall raised awareness  through a gathering at which students placed large piles of sticks around the Student Union.  Posters that read “What’s up with the sticks?” drew students’ attention and prompted them toward the displays and to the dozen or so students prepared to answer questions, according to Brian Belanger. He and Linh Hoang and Dr. Shannon O’Neil of the Bowman Center were the coordinators of Siena’s Darfur awareness events.

“The sticks signify the danger that women and girls face when they go to gather firewood,” Brian said, adding that systematic rape is reported to be widespread.”

Once a Darfur woman is raped, she is considerd by the culture to be degraded and is unable to marry, Brian said.

A documentary film Darfur Diaries and lunch were offered to students on Thursday. It was followed by a spirited discussion with 50 students led by Michael Perry of Franciscans International.

“We focused on the practical ways in which students can become involved, from letter writing to calling congressional offices to divestment,” Brian said.  “As a result, students began a letter-writing campaign right then and there.”

“There was a lot of energy in the room not only surrounding Darfur but also about advocacy skills in general. We are very satisfied that awareness has been raised.”

The week concluded on Friday with a fair trade chocolate sale to benefit Darfur refugee camps. Proceeds from all the items that were sold all week go toward the purchase of efficient stoves. Brian said that stoves will enable Darfur women to avoid going outdoors to seek sticks and to avoid danger.

“Now, when Darfur is mentioned, students are far better informed. Before this week’s activities, many students commented that they were completely unaware of the severity of the situation. They now have a cleared understanding as well that their actions here on a U.S. campus can affect policy and affect the lives of people who desperately need a voice.

UN World Summit
World leaders gathered in 2005 at the United Nations World Summit and unanimously agreed that individual states and the collective international community have a responsibility to protect (R2P) civilians from “genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity.”  While the Sudanese government is guilty of gross violations of this doctrine, the international community’s refusal to intervene threatens to render it meaningless — at the cost of tens of thousands of lives and incalculable suffering for millions more.  The world has failed to protect 400,000 people who have died in Darfur over the past four years.