Gabriel Stauring is Co-founder and Director of StopGenocideNow.org. He has worked as a Family Consultant, providing in-home therapy for abused children and their families. He graduated from California State University at Dominguez Hills with a major in Behavioral Science. Gabriel became involved in the Darfur Genocide cause out of a sense of personal responsibility. He believes in the power of community and compassion, combined with personal empowerment, to bring about meaningful, positive change. Gabriel lives in Redondo Beach, CA with his two children. Some of the campaigns initiated and/or led by Gabriel include the 100-Day Fast for Darfur, 100,000 postcards to legislators, Darfur Freedom Summer Vigils, Camp Darfur, and i-Act, among many other grassroots actions and presentations. He has visited the refugee camps on the Chad-Darfur border seven times.
A few days ago, at night, there was an earthquake here in LA that came as one quick “boom!” and then a short rolling wave. Katie-Jay, my daughter Noemi, and I were eating dinner at a restaurant when the shaking started. I immediately thought of my son, Gabo (6yrs). He had just told me not long before that he had never felt a quake. I told him, “Don’t be afraid, and just do as they tell you at school to do.”
We finished up dinner, and I got to see Gabo within minutes. He was shaken, not just his body—but his emotions also. I told him that he did the right thing by ducking under the table; that the homes here are strong and flexible, and nothing will happen to him. I wanted to tell him, but could not, that if anything ever happened I would come and protect him and make sure that he was OK—no matter where I was, I would come and see that he was safe. I could not tell him that because it would not be true. I cannot stop a quake, and I cannot know for sure that I would be physically there, on a moment’s notice, when needed.
A hollow feeling came over me, knowing that I could not completely protect my son. It was so strange. I already knew that, I guess, but I had not felt it like that.
As I’m fasting these days, I’m using it as a time to reflect about my time visiting the survivors from Darfur. I’ve heard so many stories, hours and hours. Their escape from their village, their walking across the desert with no food or water, and their loss—so many lives, it all is with me. I am thinking about the parents from Darfur and how they must feel, not knowing if they can protect their children.
I am fasting in solidarity with all those people I’ve met in the camps, and with their families in Darfur, and all the lives that are no longer there. I am also fasting in solidarity with Gabo and Mimi—my kids. This is their world.
It’s been inspiring to see so many people join Darfur Fast for Life. I’ve been reading the comments on this website and reading e-mails from people that are joining. To all the people that are fasting, what is happening in Darfur is not acceptable, and the way the world has responded is also completely unacceptable.
I first visited Darfuri refugee camps on the Chad-Sudan border in 2005. I thought it was going to be my only trip, since there was just no way this could go on for long. I am now getting ready to go on my 8th trip.
In one of those visits, I fell in love with a little girl called Leila. She is beautiful. Walking barefoot on burning-hot sand, she was always smiling and right next to me. I got to carry her for quite a while, as other children led us across the camp to see the market. I have Leila’s picture on my phone, always on the screen when it lights up.
This past Saturday, I was with my daughter at a religious celebration, her first communion. I am not exactly religious, but I felt such joy to be with my beautiful girl and see her growing so strong and witty and smart. We laugh so much. I can’t wait to see her life unfold.
As the ceremony was about to begin, I reached for my phone to turn off the sound, and little Leila, with her orange hair–a clear sign of malnutrition, looked at me smiling. I got really sad, thinking about her and her parents, wondering how much joy and how much hope they experience. The future of Leila is so much less certain than the future of my Noemi.
We set up Camp Darfur at a high school that is in the shadow of downtown Los Angeles. We had lots of help from the students, but Katie-Jay and I still had to do quite a bit of work. After the set up, we did four presentations in their auditorium, speaking and showing video from the camps. We showed Ahmat’s video.
In it, Ahmat speaks of the way things used to be, when he lived in his village in Darfur. “That is very good. But here, not good. In Darfur, we are eating meat. We have camels and goats. We drink milk. In here, our goats and our camels, janjaweed and al-Bashir, they take from us.”
Katie-Jay and I are on water-only today, and, even though it was still morning during those presentations, I wasn’t as focused as usual. The kids did not know me, so they wouldn’t know if that’s just my normal self. When I do these water-only days, I miss food more than being hungry. I miss getting together and eating. I can see that Ahmat really misses his regular food also.
After the presentations, we went outside to be with Camp Darfur and the kids running it. The camp tells a little of the story of past genocide, starting with Armenia, then the Holocaust, then Cambodia, then Rwanda, and now Darfur. The students studied about each genocide and then spoke with their fellow students visiting the tents. It was pretty impressive.
Lunch time was not fun. Hundreds of students walking around with food that left the aroma that cravings are made of behind. They were all around us! A girl came back from off-campus with a McDonald’s bag. The burger and fries looked pretty good, actually!
I think a lot about Ahmat. He went back to Darfur because he wanted to continue studying and thought he could find secondary school in one of the towns in Darfur, one of the few standing. I wonder how he is. I wonder what he is eating. Young Darfuri men his age are targets in their own land.
Mia is starting her second week on hunger strike. More than 75 people are fasting with her today. Millions more are going hungry around the world. In Darfur, millions are going hungry because their own government has decided it.
I’ve been watching Mia’s video-journals. She is so focused and strong. You can hear children in the background, and one of her grandchildren makes an appearance in one video. Mia’s children have been worried about their mother’s health. All of us that know her are worried also, and so are so many around the world.
I think of Mia, and I see her sitting in the middle of a sea of color in a refugee camp right on the Chad border with Darfur. She sits with her notebook and listens to a mother that now has no children. Mia is sitting on the floor with this Darfuri mother and is looking straight in to her eyes, sharing an experience as if it was one-on-one, not in the middle of hundreds of women with their children waiting for food distribution.
The janjaweed rode in to this Darfuri mother’s village. They killed all men. Mia asks her about her children. The Darfuri mother says, “They were all boys–men, so they are dead.”
We drove from Fargo, ND to Minneapolis, MN today. For most of the drive, we could see billboard after billboard advertising food joints, with pictures of juice burgers and stakes and fries and tacos and coffee and more. It would be so easy to take any of the exits and be eating in less than 10 minutes. Fast food is fast here in the US.
When we did stop, it was to go to the restroom at markets that every gas station has next to it on the road. Katie-Jay and I have been drinking lots of water today. My mouth still feels dry, though. We are now on a plane flying back home to the Los Angeles area. For once, I am grateful that they do not give free food in almost all domestic flights. So, more water in flight and more doing multiple trips to the restroom.
I do not know where are flying over right now, but it looks a little like the view when flying from the capital of Chad to the east of the country, towards where the refugee camps are. There is nothing but browns and darker browns–no greens.
The traveling and the fasting has had me thinking about specific children I have met at the camps. Raouda in particular keeps coming to mind. I imagine her, wide-eyed, waking up in her village to the sound and feel of bombs. Her grandmother calling for her to start running, but Raouda running towards grandma and hanging on to her dress.
They had a long way to travel. I do not know Raouda’s precise exodus story, but I have heard it over and over again from so many other of her people.
They run without being able to grab food or water. They walk during the night and hide during the day. They take risks at time and venture over to a dry river bed and begin digging for water to drink, but I imagine their mouths remain dry, always. How many family members and friends did not make it across the desert?
I have not felt hungry, but I still have another four hours to go on this 24 hour water-only part of my fast. I am lucky that my travel has been on car and plane. Raouda and her grandma walked. There are still no exit signs for when Raouda might end her fast.
There are so many people joining Darfur Fast for Life. People from all over the world. The comments are so supportive and inspiring. What a community that is coming together!
This morning, my cell phone rang, as we were arriving at North Dakota State University to set up Camp Darfur and give talks about our friends in the camps. I saw the number calling me, and I knew it was a Chadian number. “Is Ali!” the voice on the other end said, “Ali from the camp.” We met Ali about three weeks ago at a refugee camp close to the Chad-Darfur border. He was helping out at one of the primary schools at the camp, School Obama. The refugee changed the name of their school, after Obama became president. They feel hope.
Ali said that he is well and so is his family. He asked about how my teammates and I were doing, remembering the names of Katie-Jay and Yuen-Lin. Ali and other in the camp want to feel connected to a larger community. They have felt forgotten for so long. I wanted to tell Ali about Mia and Darfur Fast for Life. They all know Mia in the camps. They don’t know that she’s an actress or celebrity, but they respect her so much. The phone connection was lost, though. I was able to tell Ali that we’ll be returning in June, and he sounded happy, “In June!”
Ali is a cool kid. He helps at school, but there is no more education for him, since he finished primary school. I’m not sure what his future is, if we don’t act like one human community and do what is right for Darfur.
I ate my first meal at 2:30pm today. I am in Fargo, and Katie-Jay and I spoke to two classrooms, one after the other, and then set up a Camp Darfur tent here at North Dakota State University, as a preview for tomorrow’s full camp.
My meal was one cup of steamed rice, plain. It’s not the exact same food they eat at the camps, but I’m sure it’s as bland. When visiting the camps, my team and I always notice that we just never walk in on people eating. Here in the US, if you would visit homes at random times, as we do at the camps, you would for sure see lots of food and lots of eating; you just can’t avoid it. The refugees have been eating the same thing for six years, so I wonder how their experience of sharing a meal has changed over the years.
My rice was not all bad; it was not good either. It just…was. I will be eating less than 1,000 calories today, probably a third of what I normally eat. For Mia, it’s just the start of her 21 days. When she cannot continue, we must keep it going. Our leaders must know that we are serious about lives, no matter where they are, are a priority to us. We do not accept 4.7 million people living on aid, when they used to be self-sustaining.
Whenever I go to visit the refugee camps on the Chad-Darfur border, I have lost between nine and fifteen pounds. This last time, it was nine, since it was a relatively short two week trip. I’m sure that a lot of it is loss of liquids. I’m always thirsty and feel dehydrated out there, while drinking as much water as I can. Even so, during the past few years of doing “Darfur work,” I’ve gained almost 20 pounds–from not working out as much as I used to and from being so much on the road and not eating as healthy as I used to.
When out at the camps, it is so strange to think about so many of us having to watch our calorie intake, in an attempt to not become overweight. The people in the camps, they never get enough, and their efforts focus on finding enough to stay alive and not too weak. On going back to see our friend Adef during our last trip in March/April, it was so disturbing to see his children so much skinnier and even more disturbing to hear that their youngest daughter, Marymouda, had died. They live so on the edge that illnesses that would be nothing for one of my children kill theirs.
I so admire Mia for embarking on this journey, which is going in to the unknown for her. She has spent even more time than I have hearing the stories from the survivors from Darfur. Fasting next to Pam and Shannon and the many others that are joining makes me feel part of a community that reaches across the ocean and includes Adef and all the people of Darfur.
I don’t know what will come from this fast. I’m hoping that it will be part of finding a solution. I am proud to be in some way coming in contact with Cesar Chavez, whose fasting is an inspiration to us. I met him many years ago when going to college. He is Mexican-American, as I am. His movement had a huge effect, going way beyond the initial farm workers he was working for.
Fasting is personal expression. Fasting is joining in community. Fasting is not accepting status quo. We won’t stop doing other work. All angles must be worked until there is change, real change on the ground. That is when we’ll stop.