Education and Action
By Nick Cabrejos
The 5th Annual National Symposium on Women and Genocide was a four-day long event put together by Darfur Women Action Group (DWAG) and partners between October 21-24, with the goal to discuss violence against women in genocide-stricken areas around the world, such as Darfur, in Sudan. The first two days of the event took place at the New York Presbyterian Avenue Church in Washington D.C., and featured a series of panels with survivors and experts. After being exposed to such important issues, students spent the following two days learning how to lobby on Capitol Hill to pressure government representatives to speak up against mass atrocities.
The advocacy training began on Sunday, October 23rd, in a room at the George Washington University full of eager high school and college students
from all over the United States. An opening presentation by Carl Wilkens, the only American to stay in Rwanda after the genocide had begun, showed the attendees that there exists a ray of hope in the face of atrocities. A virtual reality video documentary of the Burmese Rohingya crisis put us all in the shoes of the oppressed, and we used this new knowledge as inspiration for the training that would begin shortly after. After the eye-opening documentary, students with previous lobbying experience led lobbying training sessions. The training was coordinated by DWAG’s partner organization STAND (The student-led movement to end mass atrocities).
On Monday, October 24th, we made the trip to Capitol Hill at 9am, and after getting lost in the underground tunnels, I finally found the group hanging out at the Dunkin Donuts Express. I was part of the team that would lobby the offices of politicians from Virginia about the genocide in Darfur and its impact on women. In the same team was David Albogh, a very inspiring member of the Darfur Interfaith Network who has been attending DWAG’s symposiums for the last 4 consecutive years to speak for the people of Sudan.
Together we visited Senator Tim Kaine’s office, and although some of us were a bit nervous (since it was our first time lobbying), we had a great conversation with Senator Kaine’s aides. They were very welcoming. Overall our experience on Capitol Hill was very educational and empowering, and we found that if you go into it with a friendly and assertive attitude, then there is really nothing to be worried about.
Like our experienced team-member Cory Williams who for years has been doing this told us, “they are here to serve us” – so we should not let our nervousness overwhelm us.
I would highly encourage everyone to learn about the advocacy process and to meet with like-minded people in order to be a voice for the issues most important to them. We need to be determined to bring the causes that we care about to our policymakers’ attention. I am hoping to do it again and encourage you to join future DWAG events to educate yourselves and take action.