It was a warm September day in 2009 when I received a Facebook message from a friend at Goucher College asking for advice for how to set up a student organization – a student organization she called Banaa that I had never heard of before. In 2008 I had started an organization called University of Rochester Genocide Intervention. I remember how the wind brushed against my face, after responding to her, and in response, I turned my head away from the wind to shield my eyes. I opened my eyes to a view of Wilson Commons, the Student connections building and thought to myself we have students, why not bring Banaa here?
I knew that such an enterprise would need student support and I knew that my fellow students would support the idea so I collected over 350 student signatures at our campus club fair later that week. My peers made it easy.
In October 2009, I approached Dean Jon Burdick, Dean of Admissions at the U of R, about bringing the Banaa program to Rochester. I shared with him a power point presentation and materials that explained the program design and the benefits it would bring Sudan, potential young Sudanese scholars and the U of R, and endorsements from the Frederick Douglas Institute and the M.K. Gandhi Institute of Nonviolence. Given his interest and experience in Africa, we shared a mutual interest in trying to make it work. Before I could even show him the petition, he had agreed to working with me to make this happen! In fact, it took until the following March after one of our meetings for me to share with him the long petition for a laugh. Our discussions were spirited, and yielded a commitment for a full four year scholarship, as part of U of R’s Renaissance Scholars’ Program. By January, I had formed a committed group of interested supportive students – all members of University of Rochester Genocide Intervention.
The Banaa team at the U of R is part of the University of Rochester Genocide Intervention. URGI endeavors to do four things: we ADVOCATE on behalf of genocide victims around the world by writing letters, calling, and demonstrating to our governmental officials to support our fellow human beings in need, we VOLUNTEER and help local refugees in the community, we FUNDRAISE to send over 1 thousand dollars overseas in our first year, and we RAISE AWARENESS on our campus and in our community about Genocide victim’s experiences around the world past and present. UR Banaa now comprises a core team of four individuals. In fall 2010 we hosted a large dinner/speaking event with Mr. John Dau about the common humanity we all share regardless where we are. We are connected as human beings yet remain fruitfully diverse. Alumni, students, administrators and community members spoke with one another throughout the event in what turned out to be a fantastic event. Eventually the community dialogue generated from the event garnered us a 2,500 dollar prize called the Presidential Diversity Award – an award no other student organization has ever received. This prize money has all gone to furthering our support of the banaa program. Currently we are working to support our hard-working friend and scholar (who is sitting at a table behind me in the library studying hard at midnight on a Wednesday night) and working to create a support network for all of the present and future scholars who come from conflict regions around the world.
Since arriving in September, Mo Hassan has become a popular and dynamic figure on campus. He has given speeches, such as the at the Celebrate Our Humanity event and recently at an Interfaith Dialogue Dinner. He has shared is life and his story, bringing a perspective to our campus would otherwise be lacking. I often see Mo around campus with his “GO BAG”, his bright yellow bike, occasionally with reptile-scaled boots, always with a friendly face, and meet him with a brotherly embrace.
Starting a Banaa chapter has provided an incredible opportunity to hone skills that go beyond organizing: it has involved negotiation, bureaucratic ju jitsu (expecially with arranging the financial aid package), and responsibility for fulfilling obligations to a human being – all while making some new friends involved at GWU and PAE.
What’s more, I know my contribution is felt not only by Mo and by Rochester, but will be multiplied many-fold when Mo returns to Darfur to promote peace through knowledge and expertise he may never have had the opportunity to acquire.
We are proof that any college student can start a Banaa chapter from scratch, and host an incredible individual. We can do our part to promote a better future for a destitute nation, and change our lives and campus in the process. Lets prove to the world that as individuals we can truly come together and create opportunities for ourselves and others to really show that humans are courageously caring beings.
-Joseph Gardella, University of Rochester ’12
Ph.D. in Community Research and Action,
Peabody College, Vanderbilt University (expected date of graduation ’17)
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