Ditch the bubble & take action

More empathy and activism needed to address genocide in Darfur

Maya Reich, ArtSci '10
Maya Reich, ArtSci '10

A few weekends ago I had the privilege of attending Queen’s Health and Human Rights Conference, presented by the schools of Medicine, Nursing, and Rehabilitation Therapy. The weekend consisted of many educated, experienced, and compassionate speakers who shared their passions dealing with the “Think Globally, Act Locally” theme of this year’s convention.

The topics of the talks, panels and workshops ranged from issues surrounding the AIDS pandemic, to prison conditions in Canada, to the genocide in Darfur. I was especially moved by Sgt. Debbie Bodkin’s discussion on her experiences as a worker in the refugee camps of Chad and Sudan. It was Sgt. Bodkin’s job to interview the refugees on the horrors done to them by the Janjaweed. These interviews were then sent to statisticians to determine whether the crimes could be labeled as genocide.

One account that deeply upset my friends and I was the story of a 10-year-old girl who was gang-raped by several men and left in the desert to die. When her father found her, her injuries were so severe that she couldn’t walk.

Stg. Bodkin was moved to tears as she described the emptiness behind the little girl’s eyes, how she recounted her tragedy like a “little robot.” As I sat listening to this child’s grief, suddenly my own worries didn’t seem like such a big deal anymore. The stresses of mid-terms, essays and issues with friends paled in comparison to the sheer hopelessness felt by that little girl. Later, as I sat at work thinking about the conference, I considered how far removed from the atrocities of the world we as students can choose to be. Being part of the “university bubble” makes it easy for us to not be a contributing part of our city, our country, or our world. It’s easy to believe that partying and essay-writing are the be-all and end-all of University life when that’s what’s drilled into us from day one. One thing I’ve learned so far about life, though, is that it’s all about choice. We can choose to be informed about the world, or stay wrapped up in our own lives. We can choose to do something to help stop injustice, or overlook the atrocities happening to the people around us. We can choose to feel for our fellow human beings, or let them fall by the wayside.

So, what can we do? The answers are not as difficult as I once thought. At the conference Fadi Hamadani, a leader of the Global Health Program who has visited Darfur, said that when asked about what citizens can do about the Darfur crisis, a member of the Liberal Cabinet said, “show us 10,000 people in Ottawa for a rally and we will have to care.” We can write to our politicians, demanding that our government stand up against the genocide of Darfur and other injustices. We can call 1-800-Genocide to leave messages for politicians, putting more pressure on them to help. We can join campus groups like STAND (Students Taking Action Now: Darfur). We can talk to our friends about what is going on and spread awareness. We can act. We can do something. I know that we’re all busy. I know we’re all stressed about papers and labs and preoccupied with weekend plans. I know most of you won’t call your politicians immediately after reading this piece. I’ve been hearing statistics about Darfur for months now, but it took the personal story of one little girl to actually make me feel connected to these atrocities. Because I feel connected, I need to act.

I’ve started by writing this article. I’ve joined STAND and will do my best to stay informed. I hope to never allow myself to hear of innocent people suffering without becoming angry, and even shedding a few tears.

I’m only starting to become aware of the acts of injustice that are happening all around the world. I’m realizing now that if I care at all about what I’m writing about now, I have to do more.

If you do nothing else after reading this, I encourage you to at least take a few moments to feel for your fellow human, for the people around the world who are suffering. Once we feel connected, I hope that all of us will be compelled to do something to help our fellow human beings.

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