“The Beauty of Darfur and the Horror of Genocide” is the name of the exhibit created by Falmouth and Yarmouth High School student artists who exhibited their incredibly moving work as part of Portland, Maine’s First Friday Art Walk on November 4th. I was just one of hundreds of people were so impressed by these students who are dedicated to educating the public about the Darfur genocide and to bringing attention to the ongoing atrocities in different parts of Sudan.
Students, teachers, parents, human rights organizations, religious groups, women’s organizations, artists, singers, immigrants from different backgrounds, and people from all walks of life came together for the art exhibit and stayed for a discussion on Sudan and what people can do to make a difference for the people still suffering there. Together, they demonstrated their utmost commitment to the struggle against the ongoing genocide in Darfur, even while Darfur is no longer in the news.
Participants united their voices to say NO to the ongoing horrors being committed by Omar al-Bashir’s government in Sudan against fellow Sudanese people. The crowd of activists, which gathered for presentations and a discussion after viewing the art exhibit, called on the Maine Congressional delegation to join them in demanding that the United States work in close tandem with the international community to stop the man who has orchestrated the genocide in Darfur and is currently extending his slaughter to the regions of Nuba Mountains and Blue Nile (while still continuing these atrocities in Darfur).
The students, who created their art in reaction to learning about the Darfur genocide, were amazing. Their creativity was beyond everyone’s imagination: with their art, they walked us throughout Darfur, both in its beauty and in the tragic horror of genocide. These students have challenged all of us with their ability not only to find the light of hope, but to use their talents to present the promise of peace and justice.
This hope and promise is embodied by a young man and genocide survivor from Darfur who shared his story with all of us. Elfadel Arbab escaped the genocide and found a safe refuge in Portland, Maine. He was luckily reunited with his family after becoming a street child in Khartoum for several years. Elfadel has not lost hope: to the contrary, he has dedicated his life to speaking up against genocide even if the world chooses to be silent.
Holly MacEwan, who works with the Falmouth High School students, said of the event, “…this is because of Elfadel and his dedication. He has brought the picture of Darfur very close to everyone’s heart. Because of Elfadel’s story of survival, the students loved him and his courage.” As Falmouth and Yarmouth High School art students – who for several years now have been studying the genocide in Darfur – befriended Elfadel, the creation of the exhibit became an intensely personal project.
We were all moved by the stories and thoughts of the Sudanese community and the dedication of American activists in Maine.
During a conversation with the Sudanese community, Martin from South Sudan said, “Last time we were at a vigil lighting the candles to remember our people who have lost their lives, even though it was along time. Looking at those candles, I was seeing the faces of all the people I have lost. I have seen the face of my own brother, my immediate relatives, my neighbors, and all of the people I knew as I a young child who grow up in war. It has never been easy for me and it won’t be even when now I am a grown man and have my own country. I have sisters and brothers who are still suffering in Darfur, South Kordofan and Blue Nile and the world is doing nothing to end it.”
Elfadel Arab followed him, saying that since the Holocaust, world leaders have pledged ‘never again’ several times and still there genocide is happening. He said that this is why he took the responsibility of grounding it on this young people that they need to be part of the change and work together to help bring the promise of ‘never again’ into reality.
They had an opportunity to learn what they could do during a presentation and discussion session that included Tom Andrews, the President of United to End Genocide (and a former Congressman representing Maine’s First District) and the Sudanese community in Maine, which was representative of almost all parts of Sudan.
Tom focused on the current situation in Sudan, included the ongoing crisis in Darfur, the escalation of violence in South Kordofan and Blue Nile, and what needs to be done. In his speech, Tom strongly criticized the United States government’s position on the normalization with Sudan, asking where is the peace in Sudan now, months after South Sudan declared independence? He went on to say that as citizens of the United States, we needs to tell our government to do the right thing to help stop Al-Bashir and his genocidal policies and hold him accountable. He said that “we must all take the responsibility to speak for the people of Sudan who have been oppressed for years and held hostage by a criminal who’s place is in the Hague.”
Tom left the activists in Maine with actions they could take to support the United to End Genocide’s “Stop Bashir Campaign.” He asked people in the crowd to: 1) collect thousands of postcards to be delivered to Secretary of State Hilary Clinton; 2) get hundreds of signatures at the event on a petition to Maine Congressional delegation asking them to send a letter to the U.S. government and demand that the United States change their policy on Sudan; and 3) set up a meeting with their delegation to deliver the petition and ask policy makers to stand up with people of Sudan and demand change in the course of the U.S. policy on Sudan on behalf of their constituents.
To me personally, this was a unique experience and it was very empowering to see how much people in Maine care about the issue of genocide and all issues affecting the people of Sudan, and how committed they are to speaking and standing with others. It was very rewarding to me to have had the opportunity to meet and be able to work with them. I told the students, their teachers, the activists and the Sudanese community there that the Sudanese people are so lucky to have you in their lives, that the way our issues have united you here today is very empowering to us all to continue fighting for the oppressed in Sudan and everywhere.
I also congratulated the Maine community in their success in putting that amazing event together, and I congratulated myself and my colleagues at United to End Genocide to be able to have the Maine people as part of a dedicated constituency that are very supportive of the issues our organization is working to address. I believe Mainers will be role models in the permanent anti-genocide constituency that we are working to build. The genocide crisis is of global magnitude, and thus requires our collective effort: if we stand united, a world without genocide is definitely possible.