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Benjamin Swartout ’11 heads student efforts to raise awareness of genocide in Darfur

Benjamin Swartout ’11 (Upton, Mass.), a civil engineering major, is the student leader of the Darfur Team of Lafayette’s chapter of Amnesty International. Amnesty International and the Policy Studies program have led the campus’ activist efforts concerning raising awareness of the human rights atrocities occurring in the Darfur region of Sudan.

I will always remember the summer between my freshman and sophomore years at Lafayette College as the summer that I organized two rallies in an effort to help stop the genocide in Darfur. Indeed, it was at Lafayette that I started caring about the issue. After Nicholas Kristof, a New York Times columnist, came to speak in fall 2007, I felt like I had to do something to try to end the genocide in Darfur.

The stories that he told of the people whom he met during his trip to Darfur and the hardships that they have to endure struck me so hard with a wave of realization. As I read more and more online about Darfur, I discovered the facts: 400,000 people killed and 2.5 million displaced. My eyes have been opened to the horror that there is a genocide going on in this world and no one cares enough to do anything about it. The problems of the people suffering through almost six years of starvation, murder, and worst of all, systematic rape, make any of the worries, that I thought were big deals in the past, pale in comparison.

However, my online exploration of the crisis in Darfur led me to discover something else: there is a huge movement out there, especially in the United States, that makes it so easy for ordinary people to really make a difference in Darfur. All you have to do is care enough about what is going on to Google Darfur and read for a half an hour.

This summer, in my search to find out more about Darfur, I stumbled upon a web site that gave me an opportunity to organize a rally with an NGO called Dream for Darfur. In two weeks time, I organized a rally at a Volkswagen dealership in Boston, Mass. The purpose of this rally was to pressure Volkswagen, as an Olympic sponsor, to urge China to use its influence with Sudan to bring peace to Darfur before the Olympic Games began. The rally was a success and extremely empowering. We had a lot of media coverage, got the ear of the national VW office, and we were able to persuade the manager of the dealership to write a letter to the international VW headquarters.

After the rally, I asked my friends if they would want to do something to raise awareness in our hometown of Mendon, Mass. They were thrilled about the idea, and for the rest of the summer, 10 of us planned and held a free community BBQ to raise awareness about the genocide in Darfur. Despite the pouring rain, there was an attendance of about 200 people. We were able to listen to the amazing story of our speaker, who was a “Lost Boy of Sudan.” Our state representative spoke, and we raised almost $2,000 for UNICEF’s mission in Darfur.

Such an important part of this movement is educating people about what is going on in Darfur and what they can do to help. I am striving to remove the barriers for people; to make it easy for them to learn and do more, so that hopefully they will want to join the movement to end genocide.

This year I am the student leader of the Darfur Team of Lafayette’s Amnesty International chapter. Stopping the genocide in Darfur is incredibly important to me and I cannot stand by and turn a blind eye. If you were moved by this article, please find ways that you can do more to help.

  • Benjamin T. Swartout ’11 Quoted in Boston Herald about Student Activism
  • Video: Lafayette Speaks Out Against Darfur
Categorized in: Academic News, Civil and Environmental Engineering, News and Features, Student Profiles, Students
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