By Amanda Jowell, Durham Academy STAND
While my classmates and I are generally preoccupied with receiving carnations and chocolates from our friends and loved ones on Valentine’s Day, this year we shifted gears to focus on something infinitely more valuable—genocide and women’s rights. On Valentine’s Day a few weeks ago, Durham Academy’s STAND chapter hosted Hawaa Salih, a Darfur refugee and genocide survivor, where she spent a 50 minute assembly sharing her powerful story with the Durham Academy community. Hawa described how she (along with nine other close siblings) was born in the Northern Darfur village of Tina to a loving mother and father and lived a relatively peaceful and normal life until 2003, when the Junjaweed militia attacked and destroyed her community. Stripped of their home, Hawa and her family moved to many IDP and refugee camps, spending the majority of her childhood in a camp in El Fasher, North Darfur. Inspired by the oppression and horrors of life in the camps, Hawa became a powerful and brave advocate for displaced persons, especially women and children. She worked closely with many NGOs throughout the region as well as with the United Nations in order to shed light on the sufferings of the thousands of innocent women and children. However, her advocacy work came with a price. She constantly feared for her life, yet she never stopped being the voice for her people. After her multiple arrests, she was ultimately kidnapped and given the death sentence for her activism. Just a mere 10 months ago, she fled to the Untied States, where she now lives in New Jersey. Her incredible work for the oppressed people of Darfur earned her the US State Department’s International Woman of Courage Award in 2012.
Our time with Hawa was unbelievably inspiring. Our chapter had a wonderful dinner with her the night before her presentation as we connected over simple Italian food, and she shared more intimate details of her life in Darfur. After the assembly the following day where Hawa discussed in further detail her story and the importance of gender equality (particularly focusing on how incredibly important it is that we do not remain silent and that we stand with the people of Sudan), each student wrote a ‘Valentine’s Day’ note in support of gender equality, which we are combining at our next meeting into a giant pink heart to display at our school. Overall, this was an amazing experience, and we are incredibly grateful that Hawa came to speak at Durham Academy and share her story with us. She not only was a kind, humble, and wonderful person to meet, but she also inspired us to always have a strong and unified voice with those sufferings from genocide and mass atrocities across the world.