For the past five years the Darfur crisis has spurred activism among university students in the United States. Various organizations are working to increase awareness of the genocide by mobilizing and educating students on their campuses. One of those groups goes beyond these goals by seeking to involve Darfurian youth in seeking solutions to the underlying problems in their country. The group is called Banaa, which is the Arabic term for education and enlightenment. It is mobilizing funds to create educational scholarships for outstanding youth in Darfur to come study in American colleges and universities.
The two co-founders, Jackie Menditch and Jeff Deflavio, attend the George Washington University in Washington, D.C., and became involved in efforts to pressure the university into divesting from Sudan to protest the Sudanese government’s involvement in the Darfur crisis.
In the process, they created Banaa. “The goal is to equip these Sudanese students with the necessary educational and leadership skills, so that they can go back and apply them in their communities,” says Menditch.
She and Deflavio refer to the Sudanese students as “peacemakers” who will be critical elements in resolving the crisis in their homeland. The first of the Darfur students will arrive soon from northern Kenya where he is an administrator in a Sudanese refugee camp.
Deflavio says other American institutions of higher learning are also expected to grant scholarships. So far, four universities have signed on and, as “many more students lobby their educational institutions, we hope to bring more students to study here,” says Menditch.
With the help of Sudanese Diaspora leaders in the United States and Europe, Banaa has developed a database of thousands of people working in Darfur. Through these networks, Deflavio and Menditch got the scholarship applications to Sudanese youth. “We got almost 170 applicants for our first scholarships. Since then we have had four universities come on board and that means more scholarships,” says Deflavio. Menditch would like to see the program expand to include other parts of Africa.