New student group raises awareness of Darfur, genocide

By Erin Semagin Damio

Two years ago, Sunish Oturkar hardly knew anything about the genocide in the Darfur region of Sudan. Today, Oturkar has founded a student activist group opposing the genocide, and is working to get 10,000 signatures on a petition to help ease the situation.

Oturkar, a middler engineering major, remembers when he first heard about the situation in Darfur. He was at a concert and the band was passing around a petition to end the genocide.

“I was talking to their tour manager and she was telling me about Darfur,” Oturkar said. “And my eyes were just wide open because I couldn’t believe something like a genocide could be happening in our day and age. I was just in shock by it; I didn’t know what to do.”

Earlier this year, a national Student Anti-Genocide Coalition called STAND had its annual conference at Harvard University. The conference was free to the public, and Oturkar spent most of the three days involved.

“Everyone there were all these activists that were already involved, already motivated,” Oturkar said. “So you got swept into the wave of motivation, and you left the conference with this feeling that your main priority should be to help save these people in Darfur, no matter how you did it. I can’t even describe it, I’ve never had that feeling before. You felt so compelled to do something.”

Oturkar realized Northeastern was one of the only colleges in Boston without a group dedicated to Darfur. He began a campus branch of the national STAND organization, and NUSTAND was officially recognized as a student group in mid-February.

Oturkar said NUSTAND has three objectives: to educate students, to push the university community to divest and to participate in broader STAND events.

Raising awareness is one of the most important focuses, Oturkar said.

“A lot of people don’t know what’s actually happening,” Oturkar said. “A lot of times I’ll wear a shirt that says, ‘Save Darfur’ and the biggest question I get is ‘Who’s Darfur?'”

NUSTAND educates the Northeastern community at weekly Sunday meetings at 6 p.m. in 435 Curry Student Center. The weekly meetings start with a PowerPoint presentation for newcomers about the situation in Darfur.

According to STAND and other advocacy groups, the civil war in the Darfur region of western Sudan has claimed 450,000 lives, with a monthly death toll of 10,000 people. Two and a half million people are displaced, and three million people are undernourished. Eighty percent of all the villages in Darfur have been destroyed.

At 7 p.m. Sundays, the members of NUSTAND meet to discuss what they can do to support Darfur.

The group’s main goal is pushing Northeastern to release investment information, and divest from companies that support the genocide. Currently, many U.S. universities have investments in Sudanese-based oil companies that are trading with the Sudanese government, helping to fund the genocide. Northeastern hasn’t released its investment information, but Oturkar said there’s a high possibility those companies are part of it.

“If we cause the share prices of these companies to drop, we can pressure them to pull out of the Sudan,” Oturkar said.

NUSTAND is preparing an online petition asking Northeastern to sell any stocks invested in these Sudanese-based companies. The petition is available online at www.nustand.org and currently has more than 1,000 signatures – 9,000 short of Oturkar’s goal.

NUSTAND is also working to make its presence known at local and national STAND events. The group will host a movie screening tonight in 168 Snell Engineering of “Darfur Diaries,” a 2004 documentary detailing the unfolding war.

NUSTAND will also participate in a “Die In” at Boston Common April 29, where participants will lie on the ground to represent those dead in Darfur, pushing the need for action.

“This is how Northeastern students can get directly involved,” Oturkar said.

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