Thousands of students around the world are fasting from a luxury food item Wednesday and donating the money they would have spent on the item to an anti-genocide network that will use the funds to help protect Darfurian women from rape.
The global effort involving students from more than 700 universities, high schools, middle schools and elementary schools will take place in 49 U.S. states and 23 countries around the world.
"The world has been slow to act to protect the people of Darfur, so students across the globe will be taking protection into their own hands," said STAND student director Scott Warren, in a statement.
STAND is the student-led anti-genocide coalition that organized Wednesday's DarfurFast.
Throughout the day, event participants are abstaining from luxury food items ranging from chocolate to coffee or even food for the day and donating the money to the Genocide Intervention Network's civilian protection program. Just three dollars – less than the cost of a latte – can provide protection for one woman for one year.
The Genocide Intervention Network will work with Darfuri community leaders, displaced women and girls, the African Union and the United Nations to protect people in camps for Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs).
As the situation in Darfur worsens, protection for women is especially needed because of the many humanitarian agencies which were recently forced to leave or scale back operations. Reports of rape, meanwhile, have increased as women and girls are forced to walk farther in the desert to search for firewood for cooking because all the nearby firewood has already been collected.
The increased time of wandering alone in the desert greatly exposes women and girls to rape and attacks from waiting militias.
In response, the civilian protection program offers safer cooking options by providing alternative fuel stoves, firewood peacekeeping patrols and income-generating projects for women so they can afford to buy firewood.
In the past two years, DarfurFast has raised more than $400,000 for civilian protection.
"Students recognize the urgency of ending genocide in a way no one else does," said STAND director Warren, who is a junior at Brown University in Providence, R.I. "We will not stop fighting until genocide is a thing of the past, not a recurring pattern."
Since 2003, more than 2.5 million people have been displaced and some 200,000 killed in Darfur. U.S. President George W. Bush, the U.S. State Department and the U.S. Congress in 2004 identified the situation in Darfur as a genocide – the first time such a declaration had been made.
Khartoum is widely held responsible for the violence by both Darfurians and the international community. It is accused of unleashing the pro-government janjaweed militia on Darfurians after rebels from ethnic African tribes in the region rose up against the central government.
In recent years, the Church and Christian leaders have joined activists at the forefront in the campaign to end the Darfur genocide. South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu joined former U.S. president Jimmy Carter in October to promote peace in Darfur.
Meanwhile, Christian leaders such as the Rev. Dr. Geoff Tunnicliffe of the World Evangelical Alliance and the Rev. Richard Cizik of the National Association of Evangelicals have urged and helped mobilize American evangelical churches to educate congregants on the crisis during the annual Global Days for Darfur.
"Every passing day, Khartoum gets closer to its goal which is the ethnic cleansing of Darfur … we cannot say that we didn't know. And knowing, we have a moral imperative to act," said Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission during an Evangelical on the Darfur crisis teleconference in October.
In addition to students, notable participants of DarfurFast include award-winning actors Danny Glover and Bradley Whitford, actress and activist Mia Farrow, Pulitzer Prize winner authors Nicholas Kristof and Samantha Power, Nobel Peace Prize Laureates Jody Williams and Mairead Corrigan Maguire.