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Moving Beyond Witness: An Example for Us All

April is Genocide Awareness and Prevention Month. Every year hundreds of organizations, faith groups and leaders, individuals, and schools around the world organize events to educate, activate, and empower their local community to get involved in ending genocide and mass atrocities.

This year the Carl Wilkens Fellowship coordinated a national campaign to bring together all groups across the U.S. to show unity, provide tools, and inspire action. Moving Beyond Witness is rooted in the genuine belief that each individual possesses the inherent power to move beyond being a witness and to take action to end genocide.

The campaign offers an online action for individuals and organizations (sign on before Wednesday, March 25!), a map of events around the world (register your event!), an event toolkit, genocide and atrocity resource guides, and a creative, offline action that empowers communities to define what it means to move beyond witness.  I hope you will consider getting involved and spreading the world by using #beyondwitness!

Moving Beyond Witness is about changing the way the world responds to genocide, but it is also about inspiring individuals to act. And one first grader from ‘Iolani School in Honolulu, HI is an example of this for us all. (Be ready, I was crying by the end of this email):

Recently, my 7-year-old son watched part of the movie “The Good Lie” with me. We had many discussions about the situation in Sudan. As a mother, I felt that I couldn’t expose him to something like that without empowering him to do something about it. I told him about the Little Ripples project and he decided that, in addition to raising money for the preschool, he wanted to write a letter to President Obama to ask him how he can help stop the war in Sudan. In his words: “Mommy, it’s good to build a preschool school for the children in the refugee camps but we need to do more. We need to stop the war in Sudan.” He’s still hoping and waiting for a response – he’s checking the mail every day. This past weekend, we were reading a UNICEF book for children about human rights which led to a discussion about the difference between charity and justice. Charity, I explained, is like a bandaid on a big gaping wound. Justice is making real and lasting change so the need doesn’t exist in the first place (e,g., like stopping the war in Sudan). He said, “So, justice is like a cast for a broken arm, right?” Indeed. Then we talked about the fact that both charity and justice are important. Charity meets the immediate needs and justice is a longer-term solution to a larger problem. My son is eager and willing to do anything he can to help the children in the camps. He’s really excited about the Little Ripples Preschool project, and he decided he could use his budding talent (playing the violin) to help raise awareness and money for our project. This is what he decided to do on Waikiki Beach front. One recent Saturday, he played for 90 minutes and raised $78.70. And he wants to do it again.

Re-reading this again, my heart feels a bit of pain and tears well up in my eyes. There is hope for a genocide-free world! I am struck not only by this first grader’s drive to help the Little Ripples children and to do so through music, but also his thoughtful and complex question about humanitarian aid and long-term support for peace and justice. He is only 7 years old and he is grappling with the same issues as international lawyers and state representatives at the United Nations. I know that this young man’s outlook on life is different now, and he may just grow up to be an international advocate of peace because he opened his heart and mind to Sudan as a young child. If through campaigns like Moving Beyond Witness, we can each inspire one 7-year-old to think and act to end genocide, then a world free of genocide might not be too far out.

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