College Students Sacrifice To Help Sudanese Genocide Victims

STANDFast project asks them to donate instead of spend for one day.

In an effort to stop the genocide in Africa, tens of thousands of students from more than 160 colleges banded together Thursday (April 7) in mtvU's STANDFast, a day of remembrance and action that focused attention on the growing crisis in the Darfur region of Sudan.

From the hallowed halls of Harvard to the green lawns of UC Berkeley, students across America participated by giving up something they would normally have purchased, then donating the money they would've spent on that everyday purchase to relief efforts.

"History proves that college students are a powerful engine for social change," said Stephen Friedman, general manager of mtvU, who noted that all it takes to feed a Sudanese person for a day is 19 cents. "My hope is that the world's awareness will be raised, but also that each student takes with them the realization that a simple act can make a difference."

Sudan, which is led by an Islamic military regime and an Arab-controlled government, stands accused of trying to wipe out its tribal population in an ongoing genocidal battle over land, water and resources. Since February 2003, more than 200,000 Africans have died as a result of the conflict and disease, and nearly 2 million have been displaced from their homes as a result of the relentless fighting in Darfur and must find housing in refugee camps set up throughout the country. On the eve of the 11th anniversary of the start of the Rwandan genocide, Africans are still facing the threat of mass killings, destruction of their homes, and other abuse by the Janjawid militias — bands of Arab fighters backed by the Sudanese government.

Last year, former Secretary of State Colin Powell visited the region. ''When we reviewed the evidence compiled by our team, we concluded — I concluded — that genocide has been committed in Darfur and that the government of Sudan and the Janjawid bear responsibility, and that genocide may still be occurring," he told Congress. Powell also charged the Sudanese government with not acting to stop the genocide, which the United Nations has called the world's worst humanitarian crisis.

Activists have urged the world to take action before it becomes a repeat of the Rwandan genocide in 1994 that killed more than half a million people. The Sudanese are also undergoing a second conflict between the north and south, who have been engaged in the longest-running civil war in Africa for over 20 years. In January, both parties signed a peace agreement to end the conflict, but doubts remain about whether the peace will last.

"So many of us live in our own bubble and we don't realize there are real people going through a genocide, and instead of silently watching, we need to do something to stop it," said Rachel Berkson, a junior at the University of Illinois who helped organize a STANDFast event at her school. "Everyone always says, 'Well, didn't someone do something?' " she said. "And now this is our turn to do something."