A symbolic Olympic torch relay is making its way around the world to
call attention to the ongoing genocide in Darfur, in western Sudan, and to call
on China, host of the 2008 Summer Olympics, to use its considerable influence
with Sudan to end the violence there.
The torch relay began in August in eastern Chad, across the border from
Darfur. It has been traveling around the world, and came to Philadelphia on
Sunday, October 7. I had the opportunity to attend the local event, which
featured speedskating superstar and Olympic gold medalist Joey Cheek as the
keynote speaker. Cheek is an athlete with a heart, having founded a coalition
of athletes committed to raising awareness of the crisis in Darfur and bringing
an end to the violence.
The event was held outdoors in Philadelphia's historical district, with
a direct view of Independence Hall to the south and the National Constitution
Center to the north. The location seemed quite fitting, as several Darfuran
children and adults were in attendance, now enjoying America's freedom and
liberty, which began right there more than 200 years ago.
I was inspired.
Some of the tourists walking by, however, were apparently not so inspired.
A woman walked by with three young children of elementary school age.
The children had noticed the Darfuran children their own age participating in
the event, and seemed very interested. They asked their mother what was going
on. The mother replied, "They're having a talk." And she whisked them
Signs and banners everywhere advertised the fact that this was about
much more than just having a talk.
This mother passed up a great opportunity to teach her children about
how we can help others who are suffering in other parts of the world -- and in
a way far more effective than the method used when I was a kid, of citing
starving children in India to lay a guilt trip on a picky eater.
But I was disappointed more by a wealthy-looking middle-aged woman who
walked by with her male companion, the latter of whom seemed interested in the
Darfur-related festivities. The woman, however, felt differently. As they
passed me, I heard her say, "I think it's in Africa. Why should I care
about something in Africa?"
In his moving speech later in the event, Joey Cheek answered that
woman's question, although she was no longer around to hear it.
Cheek joked that people might wonder why they should take political
advice from someone who makes his living skating in circles, in tights. His
answer was that he had the opportunity to follow his dreams, and he felt that
he therefore has an obligation to help others follow their dreams as well --
including the persecuted citizens of Darfur.
Imagine how much better the world would be if everyone shared Joey
Cheek's sense of caring and compassion.
And, as a further answer to the rich lady who can't be bothered with
African affairs, I would like to add these words from the Reverend Dr. Martin
Luther King, Jr.: "Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about
things that matter."
Life is about more than just you.
Shaw is a Philadelphia-based writer and activist. She is a former Philadelphia
Area Coordinator for the Nobel-Prize-winning human rights group Amnesty
International, and her views on politics, human rights, and social justice
issues have appeared in numerous online forums and in newspapers and magazines
worldwide. Note that the ideas expressed here are the author's own, and do not
necessarily reflect the opinions of Amnesty International or any other
organization with which she may be associated. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.