Students ‘Step Up’ for Darfur

By Web Master


Staff Intern

Oakland University students and faculty celebrated the first Step Up! Festival on Saturday, April 5 to help raise awareness and money for the crisis in Darfur.

The event, co-sponsored by Hand In Hand and OU’s Anthropology Club, featured a performance by Akwaaba Drum Ensemble. There was also a “garage sale” fundraiser held, which included the silent-auctioning of autographed items sent by prominent people like Michigan Senator Debbie Stabenow, rock band Dashboard Confessional and comedian Rob Paravonian.

However, the main features of the evening were the award-winning documentary “God Grew Tired of Us: The Lost Boys of Sudan” and guest-speaker Jacob Atem, one of the Lost Boys of Sudan who were invited to immigrate to America after being displaced from his home in South Sudan as a young boy.

“God Grew Tired of Us” chronicles the lives of three young male refugees who lost their parents and homes during the second Sudanese Civil War, from 1983-2003. The film showed the exodus of thousands of Sudanese boys as they tried to escape mass murder by the army.

The latter part of the film focused on period when the three boys were chosen to immigrate to the United States as political refugees, including their difficulties in becoming financially independent and adapting to American culture.

Jacob Atem then spoke about the ongoing war in Sudan, in which the Sudanese army and the Janjaweed militia group are attacking rebel groups as well as the general populace in the Darfur region.

Atem expressed his sympathies for the people in the northern region of Darfur as well as in the southern region.

“Even though they were my enemies and tried to kill us [during the Second Sudanese Civil War], they are still just human beings,” Atem said. “The same thing that was happening to us is now happening to them.”

Atem also spoke about the Southern Sudan Health Care Organization, a non-profit he started in March 2008 to build a hospital in South Sudan. He urged the necessity of medical care in Sudan.

“In America, if something happens to you, you have a Plan B: Go to the hospital,” Atem said. “But in Darfur, if you get hurt, our Plan B is the Bible — you just pray.”

Atem said that he has doctor friends who are willing to go to serve in the hospital if it gets built, but “first there must be a building where they can go.”

Atem, 21, is attending Spring Arbor University, where he will graduate in May. He hopes to attend medical school so that he can go back to Sudan and be a family doctor.

He also stressed responsibility for the attendees to help stop the crisis in Sudan.

“Now you know about this, I can point my finger at you now,” Atem said to the audience. “You’re not innocent anymore.”

Raluca Szabo, the president of Hand in Hand, said that she first came up with the idea for this event after watching “God Grew Tired of Us” in April 2007.

“A lot of people don’t know what’s going on in Darfur,” Szabo said. “It’s a crisis that’s been going on for such a long time, and I wanted more people to know about it.”

Szabo said that there will be other Step Up! Festivals in the future. “Whether or not it’s about Darfur again, we’ll see,” she said. “It will be focused on some issue the world seems oblivious to.”

Szabo urged everyone to make donations to help the crisis in Sudan. To make donations through Hand In Hand, contact her at [email protected]

To learn more or make donation through Save Darfur, visit