Soapbox: Summer still a desperate time in Darfur
Summertime and the livin is easy … . Summer is in the air, each day filled with the promise of extra daylight, picnics, concerts, hikes, weddings, movies and travel. Even with a struggling economy and high fuel costs, many Americans are planning vacations. I am, too. But this summer I cant help thinking of people very far from here, people I have met in Darfur and Chad. I doubt that they can imagine a vacation which is just as well, since they wont be getting one. Where they live, since 2003, nearly 2.5 million people have been displaced from their homes (more than one-third of the population of Darfur), another million and a half are in great need of food, water and protection, and 400,000 have lost their lives. Darfurs neighbor, Chad, has embraced 275,000 refugees. For these people, summer has little to offer but privation. The lucky ones take shelter in Internally Displaced Camps in Darfur or in refugee camps in Chad. Here, shelter translates to crowding into tents with few, if any, possessions. The less fortunate are left to wander in the desert. Temperatures average well over a hundred degrees, interrupted by torrential rains and dust storms that whip through the camps and villages. The rains frequently give way to flooding, bringing yet more misery and obstructing even those humanitarian agencies able to deliver life-saving food, water and medicine. Often, weeks go by without any aid at all. While we prepare for our vacations, the Darfuris only can wonder if their nightmare will ever end. In the camps are countless lives torn asunder: women raped bymarauders, orphaned children caring for younger siblings, parents who have witnessed the decimation of their families, the plunder of their villages, the razing of their homes. Yet in the most essential way, these parents are no different than we are, no different than any parents who dream that the future will be better for their children. In their eyes I have seen fear, confusion, agony but, most astonishingly, hope. Hope that somehow, from somewhere, will come a better day. This hope is eloquently expressed in a poem written by a Darfuri boy, Amgad: In a tent inside the camp, a boy asks his dad: Will we ever go back? His father replies with calm: Yes, son, someday we will go back. It is not if or how, it is when. Because if we dont , then the evil will win. When I speak about the tragedy in Darfur, when I share Amgads poem, I often see that glazedover look in peoples eyes that says, What can I do? What can anyone do? This is compassion fatigue what happens when there is too much suffering to address and too little determination to address it. Even the most well-intentioned people tell me that they need a break. We need a respite from the incessant demands of global and local suffering. We need a vacation. But there is no summer break in Darfur; no relief from the harshness of the sub-Saharan summer; no reprieve from genocide. Now is the time for sending funds for humanitarian aid, for writing letters and calling elected officials to let them know that we are appalled and want action; that we want the approved United Nations-African Union peacekeeping troops dispatched and Congress to provide greatly needed funding for peace-keeping and humanitarian aid. If we do this, it cannot be said about us that we stood idly by. Summer is upon us: a good time to slow down and savor a sunset at days end. That same sun will set today in Darfur and Chad, a day that will not have been savored but, at best, endured. Can we spare a thought for this place where summer is little more than dust and desperation? Can we rouse ourselves from our many comforts to bring these people even one comfort the assurance that someone on earth actually cares?
Rabbi Lee Bycel is executive director of the Western Region of American Jewish World Service and a frequent seminar moderator at the Aspen Institute. To learn more about stopping the genocide, visit http://www.ajws.org. Editors note: Soapbox runs weekly on the Sunday opinion page. This spot is a forum for valley residents to comment on local topics. If youd like to contribute, contact Naomi Havlen at The Aspen Times at 925-3414, ext. 17624, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
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