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Peace in Darfur
by Kristin Heinz

I have lived in Albert Lea for a little over a year now.  One of the things that has impressed me most about this town is its sense of community.  Neighbors look out for each other, people are friendly to one another and when someone is in need, the community steps forward.  The citizens of Albert Lea do such a good job of taking care of one another that I wonder if we can take it a step further.

There is a crisis that is occurring on the other side of the world.  In Darfur, a region in Western Sudan, between 250,000 and 400,000 people have been killed and 2.5 million driven from their homes.  For the past three years the Sudan has been involved in a deadly conflict.  A Sudanese government sponsored militia group, known as the Janjaweed, has been rampaging the country.  It is targeting ethnic groups and civilian populations that it suspects might be anti-government.  Janjaweed militias have burned and destroyed hundreds of villages, killed hundreds of thousands and raped and assaulted thousands of women and girls.  It is a genocide and the world cannot be indifferent to it.  

It is hard not to feel helpless in a situation of this magnitude in a place so far away.  But there are a number of things that can be done.  The 2.5 million refugees that are living in displaced persons camps are completely dependent on international aid for their survival.  The resources that aid groups are using are stretched to their limit.  They need help.  There are many organizations that you can donate to; UNICEF, Care International, Darfur Diaries Education Project, Mercy Corps and Refugee International just to name a few.  There is a website, that can give you more background on the conflict and provide you with information on how to start your own fundraising campaigns, in your church or community group.

Donating money is not the only way we can help; we can speak up.  The United Nations has already authorized a peacekeeping force for the region but the Sudanese government is refusing to allow it.  We must ask our elected representatives to put pressure on the Sudanese government, to demand that they allow in the peacekeeping force.  The United States has a lot of clout and will be listened to if we make our voice heard.  You can e-mail your representatives and even the President himself to let them know that as their constituent you demand they make a peacekeeping force in Darfur a priority.  As the election approaches, we should be asking our candidates if they plan to put peace in Darfur on their agenda.  Again, the SaveDarfur website is a place you can go to sign petitions urging the President and the U.N. Secretary General to put pressure on the Sudanese government.  Our voices have a lot of power. 

Darfur may be very far away, but it is only far in terms of geography.  The displaced and abused of Darfur are just as much our neighbors as the people who live across the street from us.  As a mother, I know that the children who are suffering in Darfur are no different than my own, they just happen to have been born in another country.  There is a thread that connects us to every human being on the planet; that is the reason why we cannot remain silent.  I know there are many causes that are important and I know it can be overwhelming to be bombarded by yet another crisis.  This is a cause that we can do something about, in as little as the 5 minutes it would take to send an e-mail.  To quote Elie Wiesel, a Holocaust survivor who has dedicated his life to fighting intolerance, “The opposite of love is not hate, it is indifference.”

Kristin Heinz is a social studies teacher and currently a stay-at-home mother of three in Albert Lea, MN.