Darfur genocide survivor speaks at Enfield High

By Jennifer Holloway - Staff Writer
Enfield - posted Wed., May. 4, 2011
The EHS Darfur Awareness Committee with genocide survivor El-Fadel Arbab. Photo by Jennifer Holloway.
The EHS Darfur Awareness Committee with genocide survivor El-Fadel Arbab. Photo by Jennifer Holloway.

On Thursday, April 28, the Enfield High School Darfur Awareness Committee hosted speaker El-Fadel Arbab, a survivor of genocide in Darfur, Sudan. Arbab spoke to an assembly of students Thursday morning and to the public that evening.

Arbab, who lives in Portland, Maine, works with Fur Cultural Revival, a non-profit group dedicated to widening awareness of genocide in Darfur and preserving the culture of his tribe, the Fur. His goal is to educate students about the ongoing genocide in his native country and spur listeners to action.

This marked the second time Arbab has visited Enfield High. Patrick Knighton, a senior who has been involved with the student committee for four years, said the group brought Arbab back because “the underclassmen deserve to know what is going on.”

“The situation has taken a backseat in the press,” said Sean Patrick Crane, co-advisor of the group. “Our goal is to bring it to the forefront.”

Before inviting Arbab to the podium, Knighton told students that, to date, more than 400,000 people have been killed and 2.5 million displaced due to the atrocities taking place in Darfur.

Arbab’s story of the violence began when he was 12, as government-sponsored militia, the Janjaweed, attacked his village. Arbab and his family ran from their home, but he was caught and thrown into a burning house. Able to free himself, Arbab escaped to the woods through clouds of smoke, but was separated from his family. He hid during the day, ran at night and survived on edible plants. Time passed, and he eventually heard news that some of his family had escaped to Egypt. Learning that his mother might be at a refugee camp in Darfur, he went back for her. After searching five camps, he found her.

“[From then on] she didn’t let me out of her eyes,” he said, smiling. Together they traveled to Egypt, and in 1999 his oldest brother came to Portland. Arbab followed in 2004 and received U.S. citizenship in 2009. Arbab said more than 20 members of his family now live in Maine.

Rebecca Schlask, a senior on the committee, said Arbab’s talk opened her eyes to what is happening in the world. “I can’t believe what happened,” she said. “It’s hard to hear and see.”

Knighton said the group raises money for Arbab’s non-profit and STAND, a student anti-genocide coalition, by selling t-shirts, collecting donations and through fundraisers. On Tuesday, May 3, they partnered with Ninety Nine Restaurant for a portion of sales to benefit Fur Cultural Revival.

Recalling Robert F. Kennedy’s “A Tiny Ripple of Hope” speech, in which Kennedy said, “Each time a person stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope…” Crane added, “we’re looking for that ripple effect.”

 

Contact Jennifer Holloway with comments and story ideas at jholloway@remindernet.com.


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