From the verdant, leafy campus of Chatham University, refugees of Darfur and South Sudan are hoping to mold the future of their arid, war-torn country an ocean and a continent away.
This weekend, about two dozen representatives of both communities from as far away as Richmond, Va., and Erie and from Pittsburgh's own Sudanese community converged on the campus to lay the groundwork for a conference in March that will bring together activists and community leaders from all over the nation as well as -- they hope -- a representative from the State Department, to discuss the issues facing the South Sudanese and Darfuri people.
The conference, titled "The Way Forward in Darfur and South Sudan," is meant to facilitate dialogue between the two groups, which at times have found themselves at odds with each other, with the ultimate goal of formulating a common political platform.
At the meeting this weekend, participants agreed on three general emphases for the conference. The first will be a focus on dialogue between the two groups. The second will be specific political proposals concerning the Sudan Comprehensive Peace Agreement, meant to end violence between the Sudanese and South Sudanese militaries. The third is formulating a comprehensive strategy for advocacy. The group also hopes to hold accountable the leaders in Khartoum who coordinated the genocide and displacement of millions in Darfur.
Between 2003 and 2005, the Sudanese government and allied militias killed around 300,000 people and displaced nearly 3 million more, as they tore through towns and villages, razing crops and homes. And those in South Sudan have long been in peril, as groups there have persistently battled for secession and the creation of an independent South Sudan.
It's not the first time representatives from the two groups have come together, but it may mark one of the first times the two groups have united to formulate a formal policy plan, said David Rosenberg, coordinator for the Pittsburgh Darfur Emergency Coalition.
Depending on the decade, the relationship between Darfur, which is largely Muslim, and South Sudan, which is largely Christian, has been filled with animus. But the representatives at the meeting here largely pointed to the Arab-dominated government in Khartoum for any conflicts between the two groups.
Part of the goal of the conference is to educate both sides about how the Sudanese government has employed "divide and conquer" techniques on the two groups, pitting them against each other when both minority groups were suffering under the Khartoum regime.
"We recognize that our enemies are one. Our problems are the same," said Niemat Ahmadi, an activist who escaped Darfur two years ago after two assassination attempts on her life. She now lives in Washington, D.C., and works for the Save Darfur Coalition. "The [Khartoum regime] doesn't want the African people to come together because we are the majority."
Moriah Balingit can be reached at email@example.com or 412-263-2533.