International Educator - January/February 2013 - 25
longstanding histories of conflict—and using trust exercises and role-playing to break through prejudices. “We will do exercises uncovering our multiple identities,” Green said. “We’re not just Muslim, or Pakistani. We examine the identities people have in common…such as we’re all women or teachers or NGO workers or athletes or musicians. There are many things that unite people as well as the things we’re taught are supposed to divide us. When students recognize the humanity of each person they’re meeting, that person ceases to be a stereotype and becomes a full human being. And it’s hard to hate that.” One of the triumphs of these exercises happened this past summer , when an Algerian woman in the CONTACT program announced that she had been taught to hate Jews. “This is the fifth day of the program, and she’s sitting next to a Jewish woman from Connecticut,” Green recalls. The Jewish woman from Connecticut was Cynthia Davis, who runs the Sudan Canvas Project, which raises awareness about genocide and violence by exhibiting the works of artists who paint about genocide in the Sudan. The November 2011 exhibit drew some 50 artists and raised $18,000 to help buy a bread-baking brick oven for a women’s market in the South Sudanese village of Ariang, which was attacked in 1987 by North Sudan Murahaleen militiamen as part of a broader rampage that killed about 2.5 million people before a peace agreement was signed in 2005. “These women are the parents of kids who were taken into slavery, or killed, all because the Arab government wanted to take over the land and oil,” says Davis. “They called it a civil war, and it wasn’t labeled genocide until the same thing happened in Darfur.” In Darfur, Arab militias known as Janjaweed have killed 400,000 and displaced more than 2.5 million.
According to the United Human Rights Council, more than 100 people continue to die each day and 5,000 die each month. The Sudanese government disputes these estimates and denies any connection with the Janjaweed. Davis attended Green’s CON TAC T program, she said, to sharpen her organizational and fundraising skills. For three and a-half weeks last spring , Davis met some 60 other students from around the world—many of them with clashing religious beliefs or ethnic backgrounds that left them wary of one another. Green’s program tries to pull down those psychological walls from day one—by asking students, for instance, to write down a culture or people that makes them afraid. With all 60 students in the room last spring, Green pulled the papers from a hat and read them. Several of the Muslims in the group wrote that they feared Jews. “It made me feel sort of scared,” says Davis, 49, who’s working on a graduate certificate through CON TACT using an online program that connects her with students in Rwanda, Afghanistan, the United States, and the Sudan. “Here were these people in a peace program—who already cared about peacemaking—and they were afraid of Jewish people. I felt really like a minority—marginalized. I think most of them had not met a Jewish person; they’d just heard what they were supposed to believe about Jews growing up.” Davis stood up and told the group she was Jewish, and offered to later discuss her beliefs with anyone who cared to listen. “The interesting thing that happened is that I became very friendly—very bonded—with people in a few days who were Muslim,” said Davis, who plans to travel to Rwanda this January to meet her online colleagues. “There was this young Muslim girl from Algeria who wouldn’t stop holding my hand. She was so sad and sorry for how she had felt about Jews. It was emotional for both of us.”
Cynthia Davis meeting family and students in front of Ariang Primary School built by the villagers through Hope For Ariang, an organization founded by native and “Lost Boy” Gabriel Bol Deng. Cynthia is a board member of the organization and runs the Sudan Canvas Project, which raises awareness about genocide.
Cynthia Davis with "Lost Boy” Gabriel Bol Deng who founded Hope for Ariang, a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing South Sudanese with inclusive access to education, opportunities, and resources, with a special focus on women and girls.
J A N + F E B . 13 INTERNATIONAL EDUCATOR
PHOTOS COURTESY OF CYNTHIA DAVIS