Camp Darfur in Santa Fe

Dee Homans shares with us the excitement of Camp Darfur in Santa Fe

Camp Darfur came to Santa Fe at the beginning of December. Set up on the historic downtown plaza, it contrasted strangely with the first signs of Christmas; The large trees overhanging the tents were already festooned with multi-colored lights and people paraded past, their shopping bags filled with gifts. In the center of the Plaza is an obelisk on which there is a description of the Spanish conquest of the Native Americans from which the word /savage / has been chiseled out. Calling to mind the genocide of the Indian peoples, it was a powerful place for Camp Darfur. I remember particularly the individuals who wandered in at surprising moments–in the cold and in the dark–and expressed their thanks for the exhibit being here. Construction workers came down off their scaffolding at the Palace of the Governors to look and a policeman came by to say it was a great event.

As the weekend approached, winter storms were predicted, and our small group was anxious that the weather would work against us. But, thankfully, aside from some drizzle and violent winds that flattened three tents during the first night, the weather cooperated! The nearly constant greyness set the mood for the exhibit which included displays on Rwanda, Cambodia, Armenia, the Holocaust and Darfur. In addition, we set up an “action tent” in which we had petitions and ideas for ways people could get involved as well as /Voices from Darfur /running constantly on a TV monitor. A great group of volunteers of all ages helped collect hundreds of signatures on the petitions over the course of the weekend.

On Friday more than 200 students representing five different schools visited. Katie-Jay and Gabriel gave excellent introductions to the exhibit including a challenge to the students to engage in on-the-spot-activism by pulling out their cellphones and calling 1-800-GENOCIDE. Some of the students were visibly uncomfortable given that they weren’t /supposed /to have their phones on them, but when given special dispensation from their teachers, tried it. Later on in the day and on Saturday, groups of students returned, pen and paper in hand, and took notes for projects they’d been assigned. And a young man from a local youth radio program came by with his microphone. A couple of teachers expressed interest in inviting Cam Darfur back to their schools! Students from the Rotary Club had constructed a shelter next to Camp Darfur with the intention of showing how refugees live–who are not so lucky as to have been given standard U.N. canvas tents. They camped out for two days around a partially filled bowl of grain, with a “fire”( flashlight and red tissue paper) glowing weakly in the corner. One of the more striking moments was when Ibrahim Adam–who is from Darfur and came to speak at the Olympic Torch Relay–arrived. He squatted inside the shelter and told the students about his family who all are living in similar structures in Chad and Darfur.

On Saturday people were “called” to the beginning of the Olympic Torch Relay by the African Chorus of the United World College who processed singing, dancing and clapping on to the gazebo where the speakers were seated. Previously Ibrahim had greeted the chorus who introduced themselves and their coutries of origin, and he’d referred to the numbers of Darfurian refugees in many of those countries. Following the chorus and prior to the speakers, Gilbert Sanchez, a former governor of one of the Native American Pueblos on the Rio Grande, gave an invocation and the mayor read the proclamation declaring December 1st, /Act for Darfur Day./ After the speakers, the 150 or so participants made a circle around the Olympic Torch which Ibrahim lit, and as the African Chorus sang, the clouds opened and the sky, for a moment, was blue.

Katie-Jay keeps i-ACT running on several levels. Much of her work entails coordinating partnerships with other grassroots organizations and implementing the campaigns developed by Gabriel and seeing through the details. She graduated from Portland State University with a BA in Sociology and a focus on Community Development. She has previously worked as a community organizer in Thailand, Guatemala, and with grassroots organizations across the United States.

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