'Tents of Hope' pitched as reminder of Darfur genocide
Written by Gregg Brekke
November 11, 2008
This past weekend, Nov. 7-9, over 300 colorfully painted refugee tents were erected on the National Mall in Washington DC to call attention to the ongoing genocide in Darfur, Sudan.
The "Gathering of the Tents," the culminating event of the year-long Tents of Hope campaign, included speakers, panel discussions, workshops, music and displays. The campaign, which urges the new president to put ending the Darfur genocide at the top of his agenda in 2009, included participants from 360 cities in 48 states.
Among the speakers was Al-Ghali Yahya Shegifat, president of the Association of Darfur Journalists. In May 2008, he was arrested and brutally tortured for several months by the Sudanese government. An international campaign, led by Amnesty USA and International PEN, helped to secure his release. Mr. Shegifat, who is currently seeking political asylum in the United States, spoke at several events during the weekend.
UCC Wider Church Ministries staffers, Susan Sanders and Derek Duncan, along with youth delegates from Pilgrim UCC in Cleveland, attended the Washington event.
Danny McCallum, a seventh grader from Shaker Heights, Ohio, accompanied the group, and was one of the youth who raised awareness of Darfur and support for the Tent of Hope sponsored by Pilgrim.
"I had heard about Darfur from my sixth grade teacher, and then from Susan Sanders at church," said McCallum. "I realized it was like another Holocaust, and not many people knew about it." McCallum decided he needed to educate people about the genocide saying, "That is the only way there will be any change."
Seeing the array of tents displayed on the National Mall was encouraging for McCallum, but he is convinced there is much more work to do. "One thing that motivates me is seeing the pictures that children in the refugee camps have drawn," he said. "Their drawings show blood and death and destruction. I want to make it so their life isn't like that."
McCallum believes the experience of being on the team that organized his faith community to action has been a valuable one. "I know this project has helped me – I'll be able to lead in other ways because of it. Whether that is raising funds or support or getting people together for a cause."
"The tents are symbols of suffering and hope," echoed Tim Nonn, national coordinator of Tents of Hope and a member of Petaluma (Calif.) UCC. "Some of the tents show scenes of death and destruction painted by Darfuri children in refugee camps. They are side by side with beautiful images painted by American schoolchildren who have raised thousands of dollars for humanitarian relief."
Activists cite cases where the Sudanese government has disrupted international relief operations and has recently coordinated attacks on camps for internally displaced persons. The United Nations reports that 2.7 million internally displaced persons in Darfur and 250,000 refugees in Chad are endangered by government attacks on relief operations. The ongoing genocide, which is entering its seventh year, has already claimed more than 300,000 civilian lives.
More than 5 million Darfuris are dependent on international relief operations. But the World Food Program and other relief organizations have suspended operations in parts of Darfur due to government attacks on relief convoys and UN camps. Some relief groups have been forced to entirely withdraw from the country since the Sudanese government stepped up harassment of relief workers several months ago.
UCC Wider Church/Global Ministries and Justice and Witness Ministries, along with the UCC Central Atlantic Conference, have provided creative and administrative support to this movement.