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Last Updated: Monday, 20 November 2006, 16:23 GMT
Americans take up Darfur's cause
By Richard Allen Greene
BBC News, Washington

At first glance, the party probably looked much like hundreds of other school social events organised by American teenagers.

Madeleine Albright addresses demonstrators in the US calling for UN intervention in Darfur
Americans have held rallies over the killing in Darfur
There was table tennis, arm wrestling, billiards, bands ... and a slideshow about the suffering of people in Darfur.

In fact, the party was a fundraiser put together by Nick Anderson, 17, and Ana Slavin, 16, co-founders of a new effort to get their peers to raise money for the cause.

The programme, Dollars for Darfur, aims to recruit 1,000 high schools via the social-networking websites Facebook and MySpace.

The two teens became interested this summer in Darfur, a region in Sudan where more than 200,000 people have died and three million have fled violence over the past three years.

The United States declared it a genocide in 2004, a term which Sudan has resisted.

The government there says the problem is being exaggerated for political reasons.

Massive mobilisation

Nick Anderson and Ana Slavin side with those who consider the conflict to be genocidal - and they want to do something to stop it.

"There are 27,000 high schools in the US, and if each school raised just $10, we could easily have over $200,000," Mr Anderson says.

Map of Sudan showing Darfur
I haven't seen this kind of student mobilisation since the anti-apartheid days 25 years ago
John Heffernan,
US Holocaust Memorial Museum
Ms Slavin says Dollars for Darfur is as much about spreading information as raising money.

"It's an issue of making kids more aware. They don't know where Darfur is but if they knew more about it they would try to do something about it."

John Heffernan says an impressive number of young Americans are already involved in Darfur.

He is the director of the genocide prevention initiative at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington.

"I haven't seen this kind of student mobilisation since the anti-apartheid days 25 years ago," he says.

The Holocaust Museum was one of the first major American organisations to take notice of Darfur, declaring it a "genocide emergency" in the summer of 2004 - the first time the museum had taken such a stance.

It has an exhibition on the conflict called "Who Will Survive Today?" - and will be projecting images from Darfur on an outside wall of its building every evening this week.

"We are screaming so much that the exhibit is bursting out of the walls of the museum onto the exterior," Mr Heffernan says.

Jews and Christians

The Holocaust Museum's involvement with a contemporary African conflict has raised some eyebrows, but Mr Heffernan cites Holocaust survivor and author Elie Wiesel's comments on the founding of the museum to justify it: "A memorial unresponsive to the future would also violate the past."

Mr Heffernan says the killing in Darfur strikes a chord with many Jews because it apparently has an ethnic component - Arab Janjaweed militias attacking black African groups.

The Holocaust Museum is projecting images of Darfur.

"Eyewitnesses talk about hearing racial epithets. People have been targeted for who they are, and that resonates with the Jewish community."

That apparent ethnic component to the violence is why the museum considers Darfur in particular to be a genocide, although many more people have died in the Democratic Republic of Congo, for example.

"I don't want to diminish other situations, and we are focusing on the Congo," as well, Mr Heffernan said.

American Christian groups have also taken an interest, many of them because they were already involved in an earlier north-south Sudanese conflict between Muslims and Christians.

In all, nearly 180 organisations support an umbrella organisation called Save Darfur.

A spokeswoman for the group, Colleen Connors, says the organisations represent some 130 million people - more than one in three Americans.

More than 600,000 people have registered for daily updates from the group, which is running hard-hitting advertisements in newspapers and on television.

"The general public is getting more engaged every day," she says.

Celebrity and responsibility

Part of that is likely due to the involvement of celebrities such as George Clooney and Mia Farrow - who has just returned from the region and will be speaking about it in Washington on Tuesday.

George Clooney addresses the UN about Darfur
Celebrities like George Clooney have taken up the cause
But Ms Connors says another reason Americans are taking an interest is that information is available immediately.

"This is the first genocide that people are witnessing as it is happening. For the first time in history, we are in a position to stop a genocide that is going on rather than talking about it after the fact."

For Ana Slavin of Dollars for Darfur, the question is one of responsibility.

"In a few years, our generation is going to have to inherit this whole world full of problems. It's time to stand up and make a difference."


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