By Anir Senyah
The New Citizens Press
Bullet scarred emaciated children wandering through burnt to the ground villages. Mothers tending to infants slowly dying in their laps. Young, old and pregnant rape victims, their broken bodies and souls that never heal. Men facing the inability to protect and support their families in the face of such violence.
This is not prime time television or words in a horror story but a vivid description of everyday life in Darfur.
“My willingness to help was daunted by distance, resources and time. My reaction was one that I tend to have when a tragedy happens thousands of miles away. The shock of the appalling situation was drowned out by the noise of other countries in despair, including my own. I went back to my daily routine but the people of Darfur followed me,” explained Tashmica Torok.
The television reports that Ms. Torok did manage to see about the catastrophic toll the war was taking on the people of Dafur began to wear her down.
She passionately stated, “I kept seeing reports about the humanitarian crisis in Darfur that were so cruel it made my body cringe. In a short their faces became the faces of my children, my sisters and my husband. Until my reaction changed from sad complacency to that of a woman protecting her own family. It became instinctual and necessary.”
Ms. Torok started to search for groups locally that were interested in helping the people of Darfur and, other than Michigan State University’s STAND group (Student Take Action Now: Darfur), she came up dry.
She was also amazed that genocide of this magnitude was largely ignored by local press with the exception of Associate Press articles.
The people of Darfur are the targets of, what has been called, the first genocide of the 21st century. In response to an uprising of rebel groups, the government of Sudan employed an Arab militia, known as the Janjaweed, to carry out scorched earth tactics to rid western Darfur of it’s people. An estimated 200,000 people have been killed and 2.5 million people are displaced in refugee camps largely cut off from humanitarian aid, medical care and resources by violence. 80% of the survivors that reside in refugee camps are war widows and children who were stranded after this type of attack.
The realization turned into a calling for her to take action.
Ms. Torok lamented, “I realized that there was a gap that needed to be filled. I knew that I couldn’t possibly be the only non-student concerned enough to take action. I wanted to create a venue for regular people, that go to work everyday, carpool and barbeque to have the opportunity to advocate for the people of Darfur.”
So every week at Gone Wired Cafe on Tuesday’s between 6 pm and 7 pm, a group of concerned citizens meet to discuss their part in saving the people of Darfur.
THE WHISPER CAMPAIGN
Ms. Torok started a group called The Whisper Campaign in November of 2006. The name was chosen because she wanted to send a message that the crisis in Darfur is being spread even though it is a quiet slow process.
The group focuses on three main goals; spreading awareness about the Darfur crisis locally and being involved in fundraising and advocacy.
The refugee camps are largely cut off from sources of firewood to cook food due to being invaded by militant forces.
This scenario is one that explains what may happen in the villages during thee raids: The first wave of violence is typically a helicopter that bombs homes and sprays the inhabitants with machine gun fire. The militants then ride in on camels. They proceed to torture and kill the men.
Ms. Torok added, “They rape women and young girls to force them to bear lighter skinned children in an effort to cleanse the race. Finally, to ensure that the survivors are unable to remain, they contaminate the water source with corpses, burn food stores and any existing structures. The process is systematic and cruel.”
The survivors go to refugee camps. The food that is provided to the refugees has to be cooked and requires the collection of firewood. The collection of which sometimes takes refugees an unprotected 10 miles away. The people are faced with a choice. Send the men to collect the firewood where they risk being tortured and killed or send the women who face rape. Rape, being the lesser of two evils, drives them to send the women.
There are currently 7,000 African Union Peacekeepers deployed to protect the refugees. They are outnumbered and under funded for the job that has been entrusted to them.
IT’S TIME TO REACT
"When I first became aware of the struggles the people of Darfur were facing I had a knee jerk ‘Oh, how sad’", said Ms. Torok. She added that she knew that there had to be more people out there who were not aware of exactly how dire the situation is in Darfur.
The Whisper Campaign is raising funds for the Genocide Intervention Network (www.genocideintervention.net). They are an anti-genocide constituency that is organizing the African Union and humanitarian aid groups to create firewood patrols to protect women and children from rape and assault.
Ms. Torok said, "We hope to encourage our community to begin advocating for the people of Darfur by writing local media to request more reports on what is happening in Darfur. We also want to encourage researching local politicians and their decisions relating to Darfur at www.darfurscores.org. We feel that if the people of Lansing and beyond are empowered with knowledge they will be compelled to act as a matter of conscience."
People of all races and backgrounds have been targeted for injustice at one time or another. Rwandans, African Americans, Jews, Cambodians and many others have looked to others for deliverance.
Ms. Torok said, “As an American, you probably have someone in your family who, within the past three generations, has been the target of racial prejudice, sexism, violence and/or possibly genocide. Martin Luther King said that ‘In the end, we will not remember the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.’ What will be remembered about us as a community?”
If you are interested in more information about The Whisper Campaign visit www.thewhispercampaign.org or join us at their weekly planning meetings Tuesdays at Gone Wired Cafe on E. Michigan Ave. from 6 p.m. to 7p.m. They are having three events planned that will benefit the “firewood protection” programs:
Desserts for Darfur Bake Sale
Saturday, June 9, 2007
Tickets for the upcoming Screening of Hotel Rwanda will be available at this event. $10 per person, with all proceeds to benefit The Genocide Intervention Network to support the African Union in the creation of firewood patrols to protect the women and children refugees of Darfur, Sudan from rape and assault.
Schulers Book Store in the Eastwood Town Center, 2820 Town Center Blvd.Lansing, MI
Screening of Hotel Rwanda
Thursday, June 21, 2007
6pm-9pm, Speaker TBA
NCG Cinema in the Eastwood Town Center, 2500 Showtime Dr.
Lansing MI, $10.00 per person
Tickets are available at two locations: Everybody Reads Bookstore, 2019 E. Michigan Ave., Lansing, MI or Spenny’s Accounting, 2304 N. Cedar St.,
Tickets may be purchased 30 minutes before the show, beginning at 5:30 pm.
All proceeds from ticket sales will go directly to The Genocide Intervention Network to support the African Union and the creation of firewood patrols to protect the women and children of Darfur from rape and assault.
For more information on these and other scheduled events you can visit www.thewhispercampaign.org or contact Tashmica Torok at 517-749-3128.
Sources for information in this article: