Darfur Crisis Hits Home in Indiana

"He told me afterward, he was deeply grateful," Johns said. "He basically bequeathed his son to me. It was a memorable moment. He probably resigned himself that he wasn't going to see his son again."

The Harsh Reality

Brian Steidle, a former observer with international African Union forces deployed to monitor the situation in Sudan, traveled to Fort Wayne in March 2006 as part of a 22-city speaking tour for peace in Darfur. He was pleasantly surprised by the support he found there. While serving in Darfur, between September 2004 and February 2005, Steidle saw entire villages decimated by what he said was the Sudanese army. He described seeing "scores and scores of bodies."

"I stood next to Sudanese generals while this was going on," said Steidle, 29, a retired Marine captain. "I would say, 'Why are you doing this?' They would say, 'These are not my guys.' … Just flat-out lied right to your face. It's not even after it's done. It was while we were watching it. They would say it's not happening."

Steidle wanted to fight back and protect the victims, but had to leave out of sheer frustration. Now his mission is to convince Americans that something must be done.

"We are more interested in Michael Jackson than 300,000 people being killed," he said. "It's another African problem. People just roll their eyes. It's a genocide. We wake up in the morning. We eat our bowl of cereal. We go to work. We watch our silly sitcoms at night. If it doesn't affect us, we don't care about it."

Steidle said Darfurians saw America as their savior. Each time he went to a village, he was greeted with cheers.

"They have a tremendous amount of hope that the West will save them. I have been applauded by entire villages because they think George Bush will come," he said. "Their only hope is in America. They love what we did in Iraq. They say, 'Those people are free. Why don't you free us?' I don't think that will ever get troops on the ground."

The United Nations seems to be slowly moving toward an intervention. It wants to send 20,000 troops, but the Sudanese government has not agreed to allow them in. On April 30, 2006, thousands of people attended a rally in Washington, D.C., for peace in Darfur, and actors like Angelina Jolie and George Clooney have recently spoken out about the crisis.

Community Outreach

Giddo, who left Darfur in 1999, came to the United States to get his doctorate in finance at Fort Wayne's joint campus of Indiana University and Purdue University. Even before the crisis, Giddo wanted to help move his homeland into the future. He was one of the privileged few who attended school, but to get there he had to walk two days.

In the small office where Giddo and his lone full-time staffer, Karri DeSelm, work, Giddo reaches out to potential donors and volunteers who can support their efforts to rebuild the bloodied region. For example, they have instituted programs in which American students raise money for books for Darfuri schools.

"Let us work together as a community before it breaks down to a war, and then we can start on development," he said.

Some of the most-eager help has come from his Fort Wayne neighbors, like members of Johns' evangelical church eight miles across town.

"If we profess to fulfill Jesus Christ's teachings and he professes to love your neighbor as you love yourself and we have neighbors whose family is being killed, we can't do nothing," Johns said.

The Will to Survive

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