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Rwandan Tragedy Foments ‘Save Darfur’ Campaign

By monét cooper


When almost 1 million Rwandans were killed by their countrymen during one bloody spring and summer of 1994, Stacey Merritt ’05 and most of his Morehouse brothers were in elementary school. Like many Americans, many of them were unaware of what was happening in a country an ocean away.

A decade later, the same ghastly scene of racial cleansing is being played again—only this time in the East African country of Sudan. Now, Merritt and other men of Morehouse are adults who feel they have the power to help stop the raging genocide that is killing hundreds daily and displacing millions.

“Hotel Rwanda,” starring Don Cheadle in an Oscar-nominated role, is an impetus behind the awareness campaign. When Merritt, a history and French major, first saw the movie back in February, the sight of slain men, women and children was an image he couldn’t shake. He began writing papers that compared the international response to Rwanda’s killing fields to the responses that other countries—such as India and Bosnia—received when disasters struck.

On Monday, April 8, the Bonner Scholars Seniors and the M.A.S.T.E.R.S. organization sponsored a screening of “Hotel Rwanda,” a biopic based on the true story of the terror that Paul Rusesabagina and millions of Rwandans experienced from April to July of 2004. The terror experienced by the people in the film is the same terror many Sudanese suffer daily. The film may be too late to save countless Rwandans, but it may help save the people of Darfur, Sudan.

“For the cause of humanity, students need to begin to pay more attention to the news, especially outside of what mainstream media deems as important. If you look at what happened with the tsunami and then what happened in Africa, you see a large disparity,” said Merritt, a Bonner Scholar.

In 2004, the UN reported that more than a million people have been affected by violence in the region since August 2003. Amnesty International has reported that it believes at least 180,000 people in the Darfur region have died “due to killings, disease, malnutrition and the lack of shelter.”Other groups put the number at 300,000.

“I knew about Rwanda when it first started in 1994, but I didn’t have the awareness,” said Judah Johnson ’05, an economics major, after the screening. “But watching the film makes me want to make sure people are [correctly] informed about what’s happening now. I thought it was a civil war when it was really one side killing the other.”

Aside from raising awareness, Merritt notes that another main goal of the campaign is to raise $10,000 for refugee relief, while aligning with other local and national groups to promote intervention in the region by the United Nations (UN) or the African Union. To date, the group has raised $500. But helping to raise awareness is not just for students. Jameel Scott '05, an African American Studies major, who attended the screening, said that faculty and staff are needed, too.

"What's happening in Darfur is an injustice," said Scott. "The act of a teacher is to educate the students and make them aware of their own potential and make them aware of issues in the world-not only class [assignments], but world events."

Now is the time, the students say, for the campus community to be involved in ending another racial injustice together.

For more information about how to help with the “Save Darfur” campaign, please e-mail Stacy Merritt at sslmerritt@yahoo.com.

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