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Fight On for Darfur

USC College students fight against apathy in the face of atrocity.

By Pamela J. Johnson
May 1, 2008

Fight On for Darfur

During a recent Darfur awareness event, USC College student Kathy Schmidt turned the tables on speaker Mia Farrow, enlightening the actor-activist about an aspect of the atrocities in Africa.

Taking the microphone at Bovard Auditorium, Schmidt said that 11 years after the infamous Rwandan genocide of 1994, a resolution was signed and ratified by the United Nations granting aid to survivors of the Tutsi genocide. But resolution 60/225 was never implemented, she said.

“This concerns me with the Darfur genocide,” Schmidt said during the question-and-answer session. “Even if the genocide in Darfur is stopped, what happens to the survivors? In Rwanda there was a recorded genocide and survivors still haven’t received compensation.”

“I didn’t know [Rwandan survivors] had a compensation award,” Farrow said. “I didn’t know. How much per person?”

Farrow was delivering a speech about the war in Darfur that has killed as many as a half-million and displaced more than 2.5 million. A UNICEF goodwill ambassador, Farrow has launched a campaign to persuade China and the rest of the world to stop supporting the government of Sudan during the ongoing genocide in Darfur.

This month Time magazine hailed Farrow as one of the world’s 100 most influential people for her fight against the Darfur genocide. Farrow, whom Time named among its “heroes and pioneers,” is preparing for her ninth trip into the Darfur region of Sudan.

Like Farrow, many USC students are also passionate about raising awareness of the humanitarian crisis in Africa and money for genocide survivors.

Schmidt is the lead creator of a new umbrella group on campus, International Student Coalition Against Genocidal Indifference (ISCAGI). The group has incorporated USC’s Fight On for Darfur, a campuswide student movement spearheaded by the Undergraduate Student Government and the USC Program Board in fall 2007.

The new umbrella group also has incorporated the USC chapter of STAND, an international student anti-genocide coalition. Schmidt, a 21-year-old junior, is executive director of ISCAGI, which is attempting to raise more than $1 million from 1 million students across the nation for Rwanda survivors.

Some of ISCAGI’s members working on this effort are students in Rwanda and Congo schools. Money raised will be added to the United Nations’ assistance resolution funds.

Schmidt was president of USC’s STAND chapter, which has so far focused its efforts on aid to genocide survivors in Rwanda, where as many as 1 million Tutsis were massacred over 100 days by the Hutu militia. This summer the chapter will travel to Rwanda for the second time.

“Mass money and mass mobilization is the only way the United Nations will listen and take action,” said Schmidt, a social sciences/psychology major and international relations minor.

Another College student, Chris Monteverde-Talarico, was the main organizer of Fight On for Darfur, which hosted the Farrow event, part of a weeklong, universitywide campaign meant to encourage activism in the fight against the Darfur genocide.

USC College and the USC Marshall School of Business co-sponsored the weeklong Fight On for Darfur campaign, which will be an annual event.

During the week of April 14, students created a simulated Darfur refugee camp at McCarthy Quad, where photos of genocide victims hung and information was dispensed. Other events included African drum music, speakers and documentaries such as “Darfur Now.” Proceeds went to Darfur survivors.

“We set the precedent for this university to show activism and really make a change in this world,” said Monteverde-Talarico, a psychology major and African American studies minor who graduates Friday. “If we can reach even one person who will help to light the flame for activism, it creates a domino effect.”

College student Max Slavkin and others stayed overnight at “Camp Darfur,” pitched at McCarthy Quad. They guarded the tent and provided a constant presence on campus. Slavkin also participated in the Mia Farrow event.

Slavkin, a junior majoring in political science, said he was moved by the compelling stories and photos Farrow shared from her stays in Darfur.

“There’s a big difference in knowing the facts and statistics and hearing the real stories and seeing the real people who are affected,” said Slavkin, who is earning a minor in jazz studies at the USC Thornton School of Music. “It was pretty powerful.”

During the April 18 event, Farrow provided background about the crisis in Darfur, an area about the size of Texas located in western Sudan just south of Egypt. The country’s major economic resource is oil, and as much as 70 percent of Sudan’s oil export revenues from China are used to finance its military.

On one side of the ethnic/tribal war is the Sudanese military and the Janjaweed, a militia group comprised of Arab Baggara tribes. The other side is comprised of rebel groups from non-Arab ethnic groups. The Sudanese government is providing money to the Janjaweed to clear civilians it considers disloyal.

Farrow explained how the Sudanese government and the Janjaweed are systematically killing civilians and routinely using rape and other forms of sexual violence as weapons of terror. The Janjaweed burn down villages, killing the men and often the children, and raping the women.

“After the Nazi Holocaust the world vowed ‘never again,’ ” Farrow said. “How obscenely disingenuous those fine words sound today.”

During the event, Farrow narrated a slideshow of photos depicting people she met in Darfur and refugee camps in nearby eastern Chad.

Some showed scars on women who had been branded while being raped. One showed a 13-year-old boy with bandages around his chest. Trying to defend his village with a bow and arrow, the boy was riddled with machine gun bullets.

“I was glad to see that this little boy died,” Farrow said. “He was in agony and there was nothing for his pain.”

There were photos of young girls cradling their baby sisters and brothers, whom they were raising now that their parents were dead. Amid the anguish and destruction, there was one photo of a little girl Farrow called a “child of hope.”

“Her family had been killed and yet look at all of the resilience in that little face,” she said. “If ever I’m inclined to feel hopeless, I recall this child of hope and get galvanized all over again. Outraged and galvanized. And ready to do whatever I have to do to bring this child and all of the children of the region the security they so desperately need.”

To join USC STAND’s Facebook group, click here. For information about how to get involved in USC’s Rwanda effort e-mail execdirect1millionstrongrwanda@gmail.com.