By SHERI SHEFA
In response to the apathetic attitudes of the people of the western world, Students Taking Action Now: Darfur, or STAND, made a statement Oct. 6 when they organized a worldwide fast in an effort to raise awareness about the genocide in Darfur, Sudan.
The premise behind the International Solidarity Fast for Darfur is that the participants were expected to abstain from a meal or a luxury, like a coffee or a chocolate bar, and give the money they saved to STAND representatives who will donate all proceeds to Doctors Without Borders, a charitable organization that provides relief to Darfurian refugees.
Aside from raising money for the cause, the fast was also meant “to send a powerful message that we, the international community, recognize our responsibility to protect the world’s populations from humanitarian crises.”
Jonathan Laski, the media director for STAND Canada at the University of Toronto, said it is too early to tell how much money was raised, but he is encouraged by the information he received from campus representatives at the University of Western Ontario.
“Western had 250 to 350 students at the rally… and about $350 was raised,” he said.
But, this is just one of the more than 100 campuses that participated in the international event.
STAND, in association with Tzedec Hillel and the Innis Residence Community Outreach Committee, presented a lecture at the Innis Residence at U of T by Dr. Norman Epstein and Dr. Acol Dor, co-chairs of Canadians Against Slavery and Torture in Sudan.
They gave a historical overview of the conflict in Sudan, and informed the gathering about ways to put pressure on the government to help. Dor also shared her story of escape from Sudan.
Since 2003, the pro-government Arab militia, Janjaweed, has attempted to exert control over a country divided by religious and ethnic backgrounds.
The conflict over land between African farmers and Arabic nomads escalated into a violent war between African guerrilla groups and the Janjaweed.
To date, about 400,000 people have been killed, about two million are displaced, and millions more are suffering from starvation, exposure, and disease. It is feared that the death toll could reach one million if the international community doesn’t interfere.
Laski is also excited about the media attention the project has received. MTVU, a channel designed for college and university students that combines news and music, visited 10 American campuses and filmed scenes from the fast.
He said that BBC World has agreed to broadcast that footage in Darfur and Eastern Chad to show them that there are people in North America who care and are making an effort to help.
While Laski recognizes that little can be done without the support of the government, he hopes that the fast will demonstrate the community’s willingness to do whatever it takes to resolve the crisis.
He said Jews have a special responsibility to the victims in Darfur.
“We have experienced the worst genocide,” said Laski, referring to the Holocaust. “We need to be the first to stand up…We have the opportunity, as well as a responsibility to stop a genocide.”
Laski hopes that the fast will educate the participants, stir their emotions and help them connect with active students.
“There is still a lot to be done. Overall, the idea is to educate. You can’t have someone advocate unless they know what’s going on,” he said.
They are still accepting donations through their website, www.darfurfast.org. For more information, visit www.standcanada.org.