Wesley Students Join National Gathering of the Tents of Hope - to End the Genocide in Darfur, Sudan

December 19, 2008

By Rev. Tarah Trueblood, Executive Director/Campus Pastor
Wesley Foundation at University of California-Berkeley

Two refugee-style canvas tents, adorned with hand-painted messages of love and hope by students at University of California at Berkeley, stood proud among the more than 300 on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. November 6-9. One purpose of the tents was to bring attention to the genocide in the Darfur region of Sudan, Africa. 
For weeks leading up to the national gathering, student leaders at Wesley Foundation's Student Center erected a tent at the foot of Berkeley's famous Sproul Hall and invited students into dialogue about the situation in Darfur. They also asked students to help paint the tent and to strategize concerning action and advocacy.
Wesley solicited partners to join the effort and a second tent, sponsored by UC Berkeley's Office of Student Life ("OSL"), was added, along with students and OSL staff. The Cal Berkeley chapter of STAND (Students Taking Action Now in Darfur) supplied paint brushes, networking and project promotion. Progressive Students of Faith, the student organization of First Congregational Church of Berkeley, provided the paint for both tents along with logistical support.
To kick off the Tents of Hope campaign, Wesley students viewed and discussed Paul Freedman's film Sand and Sorrow (narrated by George Clooney) and spent an evening with Darfur survivor and former refugee, Deng Jonkuch. Jonkuch, himself barely older than the students, gave eyewitness accounts of soldiers raiding and burning his and other villages. He told how, as a boy, he walked on foot for twelve months to safety in a neighboring country, eating insects and dirt to survive. Fewer than half of the 30,000 villagers traveling across the desert with Jonkuch actually made it.
Wesley students discovered that in Darfur about 300,000 people already have been killed. Another 2.5 million have fled to refugee camps along the Chad-Sudan border, where they live in tents. Each time they erected the refugee-style canvas tents on Sproul Plaza for painting, Wesley students expressed a deep and profound desire to show solidarity with Darfur refugees.
Once the two tents were painted, three Wesley student delegates flew them to the National Gathering of the Tents in D.C. Delegates Laura Taing, Amanda Mohammed, and Josephine Hau (from left, in photo below) erected the two tents among the other 300-plus on the Mall and joined in the events and rallies. They participated in various workshops, including one on developing skills in advocacy that was sponsored by the national STAND organization. Through STAND they received tickets and were encouraged to visit the National Holocaust Museum.
After visiting the museum and reading a sacred text from the Talmud, delegate Josephine Hau wrote:
My friends were always skeptical and critical of what the Wesley students and I did for the Save Darfur cause. I learned during this trip that what we did may not have amounted to much—perhaps another family or a few kids now have a tent over their heads. However, the combined effort of many, as demonstrated by the congregation of Tents of Hope on the National Mall, amounts to something. . . I read a quote in the Talmud that reinforces what I learned: "Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world's grief. You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon."
Being in the nation's capital after the election of Barack Obama gave the weekend even more meaning for our delegates and the Wesley students back in Berkeley who supported them. Everywhere, students pondered whether—given the U.S. economic crisis and War in Iraq—it made sense to petition the new administration to prioritize the Darfur issue.
Most of the hundreds of participants at the National Gathering of the Tents were college and high school students. They came from 45 of the 50 states. Laura Taing, another Wesley delegate, wrote of her experience:
Being around students from all over the U.S. who passionately care about stopping genocide in Darfur, and about preventing it from happening again, made me realize how we, as a community united in a common cause, have the power to create change. . . We share the same vision and are doing the best [we can] to make the world a more humane place. It was a privilege to be at the conference and I left feeling inspired by, and confident in, my peers.
Many of the tents gathered on the Mall, including one of the two Wesley tents, have been shipped to Darfur to be used as classrooms and symbols of hope. The other tent came back to Berkeley and will return to the steps of Sproul Hall in January 2009. This tent will be used to engage students in Darfur fundraising and advocacy and as an open door to Wesley's Spring 2009 Bible study based on the Not On Our Watch: Christian Companion by Gregory Leffel and Bill Mefford. The Companion Bible study expands on the New York Times bestseller, Not on Our Watch: The Mission to End Genocide in Darfur and Beyond, by actor Don Cheadle and Africa expert John Prendergast, co-founder of the Enough Project.
The idea for Wesley's Tents of Hope project, and much of its leadership, came from a single student, Amanda Mohammed, Wesley's student staff member. Mohammed is in a one-year, graduate, pre-med studies program at Cal. She will be coordinating the fundraiser and advocacy events on Sproul Plaza next semester where the ongoing Companion Bible study will be promoted. She is a reminder that one person can and often does make an enormous difference.
Ms. Mohammed expressed her clear sense of call to Tents of Hope following her return from the National Gathering in D.C., writing:
The combination of Tents of Hope and the STAND National Conference showed me that I was not alone in my efforts to reinvigorate activism and build a foundation of change for the people of Darfur in my own community. Without any doubt, I knew my dedication could show others that these issues are not remote, but affecting humanity on a daily basis.
Wesley, a campus ministry of the United Methodist Church at University of California, Berkeley since 1925, is committed to development of student leadership and the promotion of Christian and United Methodist values: justice, hospitality, service and religious diversity.
Wesley’s Tents of Hope project was made possible by a generous grant from The General Board of Church & Society's Peace with Justice Fund of The United Methodist Church. The guidelines of that grant made it possible for Wesley to empower student leadership.
Editor's Note: It's not too late to apply for a Peace with Justice Grant (deadlines for applications are January 1 and September 1).
Link here for application guidelines.
Download application here. Download interactive application here.
For more information contact Mary Liebke, CA-NV Annual Conference Peace With Justice Coordinator, at mliebke@yahoo.com.