|Tents of Hope from around the country are displayed on the National Mall in front of the U.S. Capitol building. Gary Jean photo | garyjean.zenfolio.com|
Over 300 colorfully painted refugee tents were erected on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., the weekend of Nov. 7-9 to call attention to the ongoing genocide in Darfur, Sudan.
The "Gathering of the Tents" was the culminating event of the year-long Tents of Hope campaign, included speakers, panel discussions, workshops, music and displays. The campaign, which urges President-elect Obama 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 staff members 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 of Hope campaign was successful because it used the decentralized, community-based approach we find in the UCC," said Tim Nonn, national coordinator of Tents of Hope and a member of Petaluma (Calif.) UCC.
He continued, "At the local level, the Tents of Hope campaign worked so well because our national steering committee trusted local clergy and laity to reach out in their communities to involve other congregations, schools and civic groups."
Nonn expressed his belief that local communities called together in compassion were at the heart of the program's success. "We all learned together to trust in a God of hope who is present among the Darfuri people and in our efforts to help them. We can apply this important lesson to many hopeless situations in our broken and suffering world. God is always present with us," he said.
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, provided creative and administrative support to this movement.