October 4, 2006

Cornellians Advocate More Relief for Darfur

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With the sound of African drums reverberating in the background and former Secretary of the State Madeline Albright on stage, the recent mid-September rallies staged across the United States to bring growing awareness of Darfur seemed like a significant step to increase humanitarian aid in an area stricken with poverty and violence.
Unfortunately, recent setbacks have pushed Darfur into the spotlight again for the wrong reasons and Cornell students are pushing for more aggressive reform.
The rally was a short-lived victory, cut off by the news that the head of the Sudanese government, President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, had rejected a Security Council proposal to increase U.N. peacekeeping forces by at least 20,000 troops in Khartoum.
While Congress and the U.N. have both sought to intensify their efforts to control the outbreak of a possible second genocide, al-Bashir’s unwillingness to cooperate has become the main obstacle to any sustainable progress; African Union troops are overtaxed at 7,000 troops and dwindling. Despite these setbacks, Ray Bai ’07 would like to see students become more involved in trying to end the genocide, not only by attending rallies, but also by electing leaders who would address all aspects of this multi-faceted problem.
What distinguishes the most recent rallies about Darfur from ones prior is that the U.S. government immediately reacted to protests. President George W. Bush promised to send a special U.S. envoy to Sudan to initiate more open discourse between the Sudanese government and other affiliated parties. He followed through by appointing Andrew Natsios to act as a liaison between Sudan and the entire international community.
None of this would likely be possible without the dedication of students like Bai, who organized buses on behalf of Cornell and Ithaca College to take students from the Cornell campus to downtown New York City where the rally was held in conjunction with a UN General Assembly meeting the same day.
Although rallies are crucial to bringing attention to this issue, they are not enough to absolve the will of a foreign leader immersed in traditions very different from our own. Rallies can be seen as the next step in a natural progression of wanting to get involved, however, Bai “would like see students engage in more discourse about Darfur.”
He added, “Raising awareness is perhaps the most important contribution that students can make.” More so than large talks or conferences, Bai believes what really gets people motivated is talking on a one-to-one basis because it brings the crisis home. By explaining why this situation is relevant to a person, it humanizes the Darfurians instead of just seeing them as a statistic.
There has been significant progress within the last year of increasing awareness and getting more students involved. As president of Students for Tolerance, Awareness, and Remembering Survivors (STARS), Bai actively strives to find alternative ways to engage not just students but the Ithaca community at large appealing to citizens to vote for candidates who would actively work for more money to be sent to Darfur.
His efforts have hardly gone unnoticed; turnout for September’s rally was triple that of the rally held in April in Washington, D.C..
Comparatively, Ebony Ray ’10 was surprised that more students did not want to take the time out of their day to show increased support in Darfur. But for her, this is attributed to “ignorance, not indifference” because “not a lot of students know the extent to which it is a genocide or the severity of the attacks.”
If there’s one thing to have been gained from attending the rally, it is getting to meet first hand with Lost Boys of Sudan, who are Darfurians who have lived and managed to escape the bloodshed and go around the country speaking about their experiences.
In the near future, Bai hopes to invite some of the Lost Boys of Sudan to the Cornell campus and further the tangibility of this issue by bringing it directly to Cornell’s doorstep. Some students may feel that they are powerless to actually bring about any direct change in the world and according to Bai, “they may not have any political leverage or the resources to impose sanctions on Sudan or force the Sudanese government to disarm the Janjaweed militias, but we do have the ability to make our voices heard.”