It’s been six years since I first learned about Sudan. At some point in 2005, I heard one of my cousins mention Darfur and, as a young and zealously curious kid, I wanted to know more. Over the next three years my interest grew steadily until I finally got involved with STAND in late 2008. And in three years of activism, I’ve encountered far more hopelessness than I have hope. From meetings with no attendees to even the most successful fundraisers, I’ve constantly wondered if anything I’ve done has made any difference for the people of Sudan.
“What’s the point of STAND?” a friend once remarked to me while I attempted to drag them to a meeting. “The problems of Sudan clearly can’t be solved by even the best diplomats. What on earth can you do?” To be entirely honest, I didn’t have an answer for him at that moment.
But now I do.
On July 9, 2011, South Sudan became an independent, sovereign state, ending decades of oppression. And on July 11, I opened my email to find a forwarded message containing a note from President Obama
noting that independence is “a validation of the hard work by all of you.” Independence for South Sudan did not simply happen overnight, nor was only the result of politicians’ efforts and diplomats’ negotiations. It was the result of us. July 9 came because we lobbied, fundraised, and spread the word amongst our peers, friends, and families. The independence celebrations in Juba happened, as President Obama noted, because we have “shined a spotlight on suffering and demanded that the world never forget Sudan and its people.”
The road ahead for South Sudan is not simple and peace is most certainly not assured. Our work is far from done. In the months and years ahead we must continue our tireless efforts on behalf of peace and human rights in a country that for many years has been devoid of them. We must not treat independence as a victory, but rather as a stepping-stone toward our ultimate goal: peace and protection for all of Sudan’s civilians.
But at this moment, there is reason for celebration, as well as reason to look back and remember, albeit briefly, that our efforts have helped. And it is this consideration, this framework, which perhaps finally gives me a way to respond to my friend’s question. I can now say, three years later, that we have made a difference, and in doing so, I have come to a realization. No longer should I ask myself what I can do or if I can make a difference. Instead, I should ask if we, together, can make a difference
. And the answer, as President Obama himself might say, is Yes, we can.
Phillips Academy ’12
Grassroots at standnow.org