New Internationalist

In tents activity

October 2008

Campaigners take to the canvas to show solidarity

The ongoing suffering of the people of Darfur, still displaced from their homes after several years, can too easily be forgotten. But a simple idea – pitching a tent in a community as a focal point for awareness and action – has caught people’s imagination in the US, and is now spreading across the world.

The first ‘Tent of Hope’ – simulating the kind of refugee camp tent in which millions of Darfurians now live – was erected last year by a group of neighbours, families, and local activists in the grounds of a San Francisco church. They began decorating it with their messages to the people of Darfur, which other members of the community began to add to. Others soon sprang up in the local area, and then in Texas. The idea spread from community to community, and there are now Tents of Hope in 310 cities in the US, covering all 50 states. Brightly decorated, they have become focal points for education and activism, for meetings between Darfurian refugees and elected representatives, and for widening the circle of people involved in campaigning to end the suffering in the war-ravaged western Sudanese region.

Founder Tim Nonn explains the tents’ powerful symbolism: ‘Within our communities, the tent is a symbol of our solidarity with the uprooted people of Darfur. By placing the tents in our communities, we are saying to the people of Darfur, “You have a place on this earth.” The tent connects us as one human family on the journey toward ending genocide and creating a peaceful and just world. With this sense of solidarity, we will never give up until the people of Darfur are able to return safely to their homes.’

The idea has brought new energy – and new blood – to the Darfur movement in the US. Student Kristi Hixon, a member of the Blythewood High School ‘Save Darfur’ club, explains that tent-building has taken over as their main activity since the beginning of the new school year in August. ‘We each can do something to help ease the suffering in the world. We see more people getting involved every day and it’s because we’re giving them a way to help.’ Organizers are building towards a national display of all the tents in Washington DC from 7-9 November, which will form the basis of a festival of music, speakers and workshops.

Tents of Hope is now going global and events are planned in many countries North and South. In Banjul, Gambia, civil society organizations have constructed a replica Internally Displaced People (IDP) camp outside the African Commission building to coincide with the festival of Ramadan. It will be occupied by members of the local community, asylum seekers, refugees and urban IDPs who will interact with visitors and passers-by on issues of displacement and human rights. In Dakar, Senegal, another replica camp will occupy the central square throughout the first week in October. And the Peace Film Festival in Kampala, Uganda, will include a ‘peace mural’ tent to record words and pictures from festival participants to the people of Darfur, to national and regional institutions, and to the UN. The message is clear: the four million people living in camps in Darfur and eastern Chad need security and resources – now.

Jess Worth

This column was published in the October 2008 issue of New Internationalist. To read more, buy this issue or subscribe.

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This article was originally published in issue 416

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