Anne Wagner at a community meeting at the Rumrol internally displaced persons camp, Sudan. Photo by Justin Brake courtesy of Stand Canada.
The conflict in Darfur, soon to be entering its seventh year, remains as catastrophic as ever. A few young Torontonians are fighting the good fight against apathy toward it, and we had the good fortune to catch up with one of them.
Anne Wagner, a 24-year-old graduate student in psychology at Ryerson University, is the principal director of Stand Canada, an organization dedicated to raising awareness about—and advocating an end to—the conflict. She returned last month from a weeklong trip to the South Sudan/Darfur border region.
On the way to the Gokmachar internally displaced persons camp, Sudan, with the assistance of the IOM. Photo by Justin Brake courtesy of Stand Canada.
Where in Darfur were you stationed, and what did you do while there?
We were based out of Gordhim, South Sudan, and travelled to the Gokmachar and Rumrol internally displaced persons [IDP] camps.
While there, we interviewed IDPs, tribal chiefs, and administrators in the camps. We also helped provide an assessment of needs to the International Organization of Migration [IOM]. The reason that we interview these individuals is to bring their stories back to Canada to provide a personal perspective of the crisis.
You visited the Rumrol camp last year as well. What differences did you see between 2008 and 2009?
The camp has more than doubled in size (from approximately 2,200 to over 5,700), and the inhabitants are getting frustrated—frustrated that the international community has made promises but has not followed through, frustrated that they still have to be there, frustrated that they have had to endure a flood and a cholera outbreak in one year, frustrated because they want to live in peace.
What were your living and travel arrangements?
Our team (advocacy director Jackie Bonisteel, member Justin Brake, documentarian Jonathan Watton, and I) flew to Nairobi, where we met up with our hosts from the Canadian Aid for Southern Sudan [CASS], an organization run by Liberal MP Glen Pearson and his wife, Jane Roy. We travelled via prop plane from Nairobi to southern Sudan, and then had a quick car ride to Gordhim. We stayed at the Catholic Mission in Gordhim in tukals [one-room mud and straw huts] and basic brick structures, and then we camped at the IDP camps. We were taken to the IDP camps by the kind people at the IOM.
Documentarian Jonathan Watton and young people in Gordhim, Sudan. Photo by Anne Wagner courtesy of Stand Canada.
How does your visit to Darfur help in any way to end the conflict?
Travelling to Sudan gives Stand’s advocacy far greater weight. We are able to report on what we saw on the ground, and provide real stories and accounts, which strengthens our message when we communicate with decision-makers.
Most people will never have the chance to visit Darfur. How can they contribute to ending the conflict in Darfur?
They can join Stand’s efforts—educate themselves, talk to their friends and neighbours, talk to their politicians, and stand up for someone who has died in the conflict. Joining our latest campaign, Stand for the Dead is one way of doing so.
We’ve existed since 2005. We have organized events, rallies, and press conferences, and we have held meetings with parliamentarians and decision-makers at both the chapter and national levels. We train young leaders to be effective advocates, and have briefed high-level officials and members of parliament about the conflict and potential courses of action. We also ran an effective campaign during the latest federal election which informed every candidate about the crisis.
Women at a community meeting at the Rumrol internally displaced persons camp, Sudan. Photo by Anne Wagner courtesy of Stand Canada.
Your literature refers to “advocacy” toward Canadian politicians. What exactly are you advocating them to do?
The Canadian government needs to lead the world in response to genocide, and particularly Darfur. Canadians wrote the Responsibility to Protect [R2P] doctrine, which posits that the international community needs to help protect the citizens of a country from persecution if their government does not, and we need to uphold this. We need to pressure the United Nations [UN] to fully deploy peacekeepers, to help facilitate peace talks with tribal leaders, and to divest Canadian institutions from holdings in the worst offender companies doing business in Sudan.
So would your support for foreign intervention in Darfur extend to support for military intervention? Can the genocide be stopped without military intervention? By whom?
We want to see the UN mission be effective—and for this to happen, the full deployment of peacekeepers needs to occur, and we cannot kowtow to the desires of the Sudanese government.
Would you like to commend or criticize any particular Canadian politicians and/or political parties with respect to Darfur?
Darfur is a cross-party issue. In our campaign “Speak the Name,” which we ran during the last federal election, we offered to any candidate that if they spoke about Darfur, that we would speak about them. We had ninety-two supporters, of which fifty-one were elected. We need to see that support turn into action. In particular, I travelled to Sudan with [Liberal MPs] Carolyn Bennett and Glen Pearson, who are phenomenal advocates for Darfur; [Liberal MP] Irwin Cotler and [NDP MP] Paul Dewar are other particularly strong allies.
Any closing thoughts?
We need to create a community of advocates for Darfur—a critical mass who will provide the impetus for the Canadian government to act on their good intentions. It is easy to become overwhelmed with the enormity of the situation or its bleakness, but at Stand, we make it easy to act against genocide by providing our members with the tools to take action and the support to have an impact.
Community meeting at the Rumrol internally displaced persons camp, Sudan. Photo by Anne Wagner courtesy of Stand Canada.
All photos are courtesy of Stand Canada. With thanks to Greta Palmason at Stand for her logistical assistance.