Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Making the Connection: Darfur & the Lost Boys of Sudan

Darfur Alert Coalition and the Free Library of Philadelphia Show Award-winning Film: The Lost Boys of Sudan
to an Overflow Crowd

Friday, December 2nd,
The Darfur Alert Coalition partnered with The Free Library of Philadelphia to sponsor The Lost Boys of Sudan, the Award winning documentary that follows two Sudanese refugees on their extraordinary journey from Sudan to America.
This film offered people in the Philadelphia area a chance to make the connections between a number of key issues: refugee and immigrant rights issues, the effects of the war in Southern Sudan, and the on-going genocide in Darfur.

The Southern Sudanese Association, Western Sudanese Association and the Group Against Torture in Sudan (GATS) also co-sponsored this event and provided speakers for the panel discussion following the film.
The room for the viewing began filling up as people arrived early. By the 6 PM show time, the place was packed. As people continued arriving, we added new rows of extra seats and eventually squeezed dozens more in until people stood heel-to-toe from the last chair to the back wall. Even in this uncomfortable situation, the audience stayed, perhaps because as Jonathan Curiel said, the film was spellbinding. It humanized Sudan's continuing refugee problem.

Megan Mylan, the instigator of this opportunity and film's co-producer and her colleague sat outside the room with other organizers from DAC. We could hear the film playing and regularly hear the audience laugh at such scenes as when one of the Lost Boys fails his driving test and returns to the parking lot, smiles and gets in his car to drive off.

After the film, the overflow of the crowd cleared out, leaving a comfortably full room to participate in an open discussion with the panel. Dr. Mahdi Ibn Ziyad introduced the panel. People were riveted as Mohamed Ibrahim shook with passion while outlining the history of US involvement in Sudan and it's impact on Sudanese politics and his own life. Mohamed provided a context for understanding the cause of the refugee exodus that challenged the audience to dig deeper and learn more especially on the role of the Nixon/Reagan administrations in the current mess in Sudan .

Two Lost Boys, Michael Kuch and Joseph Deng spoke briefly about their experiences. They fielded questions from the audience about tribal conflicts and their efforts to lobby in Washington. They also pointedly addressed the value of Southern Sudanese joining with Darfur rights activists in working for a just, peaceful and unified Sudan.

Megan Mylan updated the audience on how the two Lost Boys in the film are doing now. She was also encouraged by someone in the audience to turn her attention and camera towards Mohamed Ibrahim and other survivors of torture and consider making a documentary about their harrowing and courageous experiences. Megan agreed and wrote down the man's contact information.
Fatima Haroun also made the connections between the suffering of the people from the war in Southern Sudan and her own people from Darfur. She was joined by another Darfurian voice from Philadelphia, Amira Teben who spoke very movingly about the importance of responding to the violence in Sudan as a human being and not allowing the twisted complications of politics to interfere with the urgency of attending to the humanitarian catastrophy that is causing so much anguish and suffering throughout the Darfur region.
Dr. Jerry Ehrlich looked as if he carried every one of the children who had died in his arms last year while he worked in Kalma Camp in Nyala, Darfur, Sudan. With remarkable humility and palpable anguish, he brought the depth of the human tragedy right into the room. He gave the audience a way to understand the necessity of each one of us doing all we can to stop the violence and get relief for the people of Darfur.
Dr. Ibn Ziyad addressed a question from the audience concerning the split among American Muslims' response to the genocide in Darfur.

Lou Ann Merkle thanked the audience for coming, the Free Library for hosting the event, the speakers for participating on the panel and the volunteers for helping make the evening a success. She particularly thanked Megan Mylan for using her creativity and skills to tell such important stories. She noted how invaluable the film is as tool for raising awareness, building community and helping heal the wounds of war. Merkle invited the audience to become actively involved in the work of the Darfur Alert Coalition including the upcoming Sudanese Speaking Tour.
Pat DeBrady brought letters urging our Congressional representatives to co-sponsor The Darfur Peace and Accountability Act. People signed the letters that will be sent to key Congress people.

Sonya Springer helped promote the event and Martina Johnson-Allen helped hand out our DAC literature at the event. Tigani Abu Algasim and many other Sudanese were there, as were Suzannah Gund, Stephanie Nyambyire, Rita, Katie and a lot of other Swarthmore students.
Temple professors and students were there along with folks who had attended our first event a year ago at The Church of the Advocate or this past summer at The African American Museum.

Nearly 50 people signed up to be on our mailing list with some noting they wanted to volunteer with DAC. Our challenge will be to continue offering such programs and find a way to keep working together to advocate for an end to the violence in Darfur and help the people of Darfur reclaim their lives, livelihoods and land.

reported by Lou Ann Merkle

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