Students Raise Darfur Awareness

The Darfur Action Committee gave a new meaning to ‘on-campus
housing’ last Tuesday and Wednesday when members of the club slept in a crowded
tent on Ring Road for two days to simulate the conditions of refugee camps in
Darfur, a region in eastern Sudan where, according to the Coalition for
International Justice, 400,000 people have been killed in a genocide.

The event coincided with a ‘Climb for Darfur’ rock-climbing
fundraiser held on Sunday at Solid Rock Gym in Lake Forest. Camp Darfur was developed by Gabriel Stauring, a co-founder of Stop Genocide Now, an
organization dedicated to educating the public about the genocide and finding
means to stop it. Stauring and others organized the first Camp Darfur event back in April, held for five days in Lennox, Calif. next to LAX. Any interested
parties were invited to sleep in tents to experience the life of Darfur refugees. Co-chairs second-year political science and history double-major Sevana
Sammis and second-year political science major Yvette Shirinian attended the
event and quickly took steps to organize another campout at UC Irvine.

‘We had to write a proposal to the dean of students to prove
why it was a worthy cause,’ Sammis said. ‘We had to outline every single
detail. Fortunately, we were sponsored by the School of Social Sciences and got
support from the Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs Manuel Gomez.’

After a month and a half of seeking permission, 10 students
were allowed to sleep in the small, drafty tent for two nights.

‘It was a great experience for all the DAC members to get to
know each other while making a statement at the same time to the rest of the
students that there’s a genocide going on, [which is] important enough for us
to spend two nights on Ring Road despite the uncomfortable conditions,’
Shirinian said.

On Tuesday night, guest speaker Vazken Movsesian, who had
returned from a trip to Rwanda a decade after its own genocide, presented a
slide show to a crowd of approximately 30 students during a candlelight vigil.
In several frames, he explained that the concrete slab he was standing under
was a mass grave of more than 2,600 bodies, with four to 60 victims per casket.
Another picture showed a woman with a scar across her right cheek, a survivor
of the Rwanda genocide.

‘She showed me that ‘machete,’ is not a noun. It’s a verb,’
Movsesian said. ‘You can’t cut through with a single blow. You have to machete
a person over and over to cut off a head, to kill.’

Students saw images of the Ntarama Church where over 5,000
died after a priest betrayed a whole community to the rebels. The church was
left as a shrine with shelves of skulls and separate rows reserved for those of

‘Why did they kill the children? Because they knew that one
day they would grow up to become the enemy,’ Movsesian said.

But Movsesian also showed images of hope, children playing
soccer with a ball made from scraps, orphans of the genocide building homes for
families and widows working to make a future for themselves and their children.

‘When I saw these women, I saw my grandmother [surviving
through the Armenian genocide]. For a moment I saw beyond color. It didn’t
matter,’ Movsesian said. ‘We need to remember that we are all people. We are
all together.’

On the following night, DAC presented a screening of
‘Invisible Children,’ a documentary about children in Uganda who were abducted and forced to become soldiers. About 60 to 70 students attended
and also saw a clip from former Marine Brian Steidle, who witnessed the Darfur genocide firsthand.

With both Camp Darfur and the fundraising event over, the
DAC plans to continue to work to end the genocide, even as the school year
comes to a close.

‘Camp Darfur has definitely been a success. Now a lot more
people know about the genocide,’ Sammis said. ‘Obviously there’s a lot more we
can do, but at least our first agenda [the UC divestment of UC funds from the
region] was passed. Now we’re waiting on statewide divestment.’

The club also plans to organize activist kits for students
interested in becoming involved over the summer. For more information, contact