Genocide in Darfur: What We Can Do to Help

When I get home from work every day, I like to watch the news to catch up on what's going on in the world. On Monday night, Ann Curry of NBC News did a piece on the genocide in Darfur. Hundreds of thousands have been killed and millions have been displaced since 2003. The farmers of Darfur have been driven from the homes and forced to live in refugee camps. Malnutrition and starvation abound. Men are killed, women are raped, and children left orphaned while their government turns a blind eye. The Janjaweed militia continues to wreck havoc upon the refugees. The violence is so terrible that NGOs have pulled out of the region to ensure the safety of their volunteers.

After watching the news with my roommates, we were all saddened and disheartened by this situation. Why doesn't the U.N. do anything to help? Why can't President Bush send in American troops to protect the refugees and keep the peace? Why is the world turning away from the suffering in Sudan? I felt helpless, but consigned myself to the fact that I couldn't do anything as a mere individual. I don't have any legislative powers to push for U.N. intervention. I don't have any troops to send into Darfur. What more could I do then contribute some money to an NGO and pray for the refugees?

But today I came across an article in the New Republic about a group of Swarthmore college students who are doing something to help. Working from their dorm rooms, Mark Hanis and Sam Bell raised money to support the underfunded African Union, the main peacekeeping force in Sudan. Eventually they raised a quarter of a million dollars to support Darfur peacekeepers. The money is being used to train female escorts to protect women refugees when they must leave their camps to collect firewood. Such protection is needed because the refugees our often raped by the Janjaweed when they leave the confines of their camp. Currently, the Genocide Intervention Network (the organization co-founded by Hanis) is working to stop the violence in Darfur and organizing Americans to lobby their congressmen to send U.S. military aid.

The GI-Net website provides ten ways for civilians to provide help. Number six on this list is to work within our faith communities to raise awareness and support to stop the genocide. This can be accomplished through organizing prayer meetings, holding sermons about charity work, and having functions to raise money to support peacekeeping missions in Darfur. I know many of you who read my blog are Mormon and so we probably represent around 20 individual wards. I urge all of you to work within your wards and stakes to raise awareness about Darfur. Maybe you can talk to your activities committee chairs and help them set up a ward activity's night to watch Hotel Rwanda and raise money for a charity. Perhaps at your next fast and testimony meeting, you can lead your ward in fasting and praying for the refugees. As Mormons, we have the responsibility to take care of those around us. On top of this, our church leaders have encouraged us to be informed and able citizens. Thus, we also need to write to our congressmen and senators about increasing American aid and military presence in Sudan---and about any other issue that is important to us.

We are all busy with work, school, raising families, etc., but we must never be too busy to reach out a hand to those in need. If you have the time, dedicate an hour or two out of your week to do community service. If you lack the time, then donate your money. Whether you have thousands of dollars to give or just one, it makes a difference. We all have an obligation to love our neighbors---even the ones who live thousands of miles away in a place called Darfur.

Don't let anyone tell you that there's nothing you can do. Our country is plagued by this brand of thinking. There is something you can do. The only enemies we have to fight are cynicism, pessimism, and hopelessness. Is God cynical? Is He pessimistic? If you are striving to be like God, then surely these traits have no place in your body. If you're just striving to be a better person, then being cynical or pessimistic will only keep you further from your goals.

Act today! Open the door for someone, bake cookies for your neighbors, do the dishes so your husband/wife can relax, mentor a student, SMILE. And please, help stop the genocide in Darfur.