While the destruction and slaughtering taking place in Darfur lies a world away from the Choice City and the minds of average college students, two CSU undergraduates are bringing the battle to campus.
Senior Rachel Robichaux and junior Carly Knaff are fighting to end genocide in war torn Sudan – by selling t-shirts.
Deliver Darfur is a student organization the two women founded this year in an effort to raise money and awareness about genocide in the Darfur province of Sudan, Africa’s largest country. The non-profit group sells t-shirts and bags printed with their logo, aimed at attracting the attention of their own generation.
“We were frustrated,” said Robichaux, a pre-med and technical journalism double major. “So many people our age don’t even know what’s going on there, and we knew if nothing happens, it was going to turn into another holocaust.”
According to BBC News online at www.bbc.co.uk, the conflict in Darfur, which began in 2003, is largely between the African farmers and the Arab herders. The Sudanese government, accused of allying with the Janjaweed, an Arab rebel group, have launched a military campaign on the region, continuously slaughtering, raping and stealing from the Africans.
Refugees now depend on international donors to survive, providing them with food aid. However, according to Human Rights Watch, targeted attacks and deterioration in security has made aid distribution nearly impossible, resulting in mass starvation.
Ending the violence is a fight on more than one front, and Knaff and Robichaux decided to take action in January.
“I had known about the genocide in Darfur for a while, but always thought that one person couldn’t really do anything, but then Rachel said, ‘Why can’t we?'” said Knaff, a pre physical therapy and sports medicine major. “We decided that even if we just gave knowledge to 20 or more people, they would spread that around, and that’d be enough.”
So the t-shirt making began. Originally planning on designing the logo themselves, Robichaux and Knaff wanted to include a bird, to represent freedom and deliberation from oppression, and a tree as a symbol of Africa.
But what they got was even better, the two said.
Noah Cremisino, a graphic artist and owner of Lab Seven, a screen print shop in Denver, offered help after hearing about the group from a mutual friend. Cremisino says he felt inspired to help when he visited Darfur in 2003.
“When I visited Sudan, it was very unstable, and people were afraid to settle because they could be uprooted at anytime,” Cremisino said. “No one was planting crops, the livestock were emaciated, and no one was really able to work. It is definitely a humanitarian issue.”
Seeing the children try to attend school, held in a bombed building with no windows, old books and dirt floors for seating, Cremisino says he felt a call to help the people there struggling for survival.
What he wanted to came up with was a logo that combined Robichaux and Knaff’s original ideas with a unique, edgy design that would appeal to students, capture the “distressed feel” of the nation and perhaps spark interest in their purpose.
And that’s exactly what the shirts did. Before they had even received their first shipment of the sweatshop-free apparel, they had already sold out.
Since that first shipment, Deliver Darfur has grown to include seven other members, and raised almost $700, far more than Robichaux or Knaff anticipated. With $1 providing an entire day of food for a refugee, their efforts have made an impact on hundreds of lives.
Deliver Darfur donates all it’s profit to the International Rescue Committee (IRC). Founded in 1933, the committee provides aid and assistance for 25 different countries, Sudan included. They provide refugees with basic needs, from water to medical supplies, in three different regions of Darfur, said communications officer Emily Holland, who spent two months in Sudan earlier this year. They also assist brutalized woman, and offer centers for them and children to get back on their feet after fleeing their villages.
“I met women who had lost it all, their husbands, their jobs, their worldly possessions,” Holland said. “The situation is currently extremely tense. Those that have been pushed out of their villages are extremely vulnerable while they’re in flight.”
According to IRC’s Web site, www.theirc.org, their mission is to be a global leader in “emergency relief, rehabilitation, protection of human rights, post-conflict development, resettlement services and advocacy for those uprooted or affected by conflict and oppression.” The committee describes the current situation in Darfur as one of the worst humanitarian crises facing the world.
According to Deliver Darfur’s Web site, www.deliverdarfur.com, the IRC has already provided assistance to 700,000 persons in refugee assistance programs.
The student’s success has allowed Deliver Darfur to make big plans for the future, including possibly expanding to CU-Boulder.
Both Robichaux and Knaff say they will continue the organization during graduate school, with hope of spreading the program to other states. The two also say they are in the process of planning a benefit concert and hosting a merchandise tent at Warped Tour. They hope to gain recognition as an official CSU student organization this year, which would allow them to sell their product on the plaza.
“Our goal right now is to get more known on campus,” Robichaux said. “We really just want to spread awareness. Any money we raise is better than nothing.”
“I’ve seen the suffering first hand, but I’ve also seen their bravery, hope and optimism over excruciating odds,” she said. “What they (Deliver Darfur) is doing is tremendous, and a new and innovative way to give people a way to help.”
Keeping Deliver Darfur as active and successful as the organization has been hasn’t happened without sacrifice. With both Robichaux and Knaff enrolled in full class loads and preparing for graduate school, the time put into the group is time taken from studying and working.
But after considering the mass murder and starvation of the people of Sudan, they agree their labors are more than worth the sacrifice.
“There are so many places in world that need our help, but it’s been really encouraging to see what other students have been able to do, and the power of one,” Robichaux said. “You really have to choose your battles, and Darfur is ours.”
TO PURCHASE A SHIRT OR BAG OR FOR MORE INFORMATION, CHECK OUT DELIVER DARFUR’S WEBSITE:
Staff writer Margaret Canty can be reached at email@example.com.