Activist returns from Africa
February 12, 2008
The hand-held footage from the African hotel where Joshua Sundberg is trapped depicts a world far removed from his quiet snow-capped hometown in Oakley, Utah. In Le Meridien Chari hotel, he is in the heat of a battle: Rebel soldiers are making a power grab in N’Djamena, the capital of Chad just beyond the barbed wire fence. He is so close to the action, a 50-caliber machine gun sits outside his room’s window and a random explosive burns a hole through the wall of a neighboring room the size of a watermelon. Gunshots crackle in the distance.
This video is posted Feb. 2 on the Web site stopgenocidenow.com, one day after the activist was supposed to begin his journey home to California after traveling to refugee camps for three weeks. Though it’s a harrowing experience, it is exactly the kind of story Sundberg and his fellow citizen journalists hope to tell through the site. Through video and blogs, volunteers of Stop Genocide Now share personal narratives, ones that go beyond the statistics to inspire the world to end the ceaseless fighting and ethnic cleansing in Darfur and its surrounding areas.
Sundberg calls this most dangerous part of his trip "luck."
"When newspapers in the United States talk about Darfur and Chad, they often paint the people as victims in a really horrible situation, which is true, but the reality is, all the people down there were courageous and self-sufficient who had a horrible circumstance," he explains. "We wanted to capture stories of their heroism and let people identify with them as global citizens To recognize them more as people we want to stand with, as oppose to treating them as victims."
Sundberg shared the journey to Chad with Gabriel Stauring, 41, founder of Stop Genocide Now, Katie-Jay Scott, 27, a fellow Stop Genocide Now staffer, and Jeremiah Forest, 32, co-founder with Sundberg of the activist group World Abundance. The four will waited until Tuesday, Feb. 5, for the French officers to escort them to their flight to Paris. They arrived in Los Angeles Wednesday, Feb. 6, a little after 8 p.m.
In a phone interview with The Park Record from his house in Orange County, Sundberg, 32, says he always remembers having "a mind for social consciousness" while attending South Summit High School, but he’s never been as active as he has in the last 18 months since starting World Abundance. He admits many of his friends and his parents, who own the Oakley-based company, Walrus Woodworking, think he’s "a little crazy," but he says he is comfortable with that designation.
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"I decided two-and-a-half years ago that I wanted to change the world," Sundberg explains. "Up until then, I spent most of my life working to make money to get the American dream, which is the idea that one day you get enough money to do what you really want to do. I just decided to stop that and start doing what I really wanted to do right now."
Sundberg, who is an advanced mortgage planner by trade, began World Abundance with two business partners in California. The idea behind the organization is to "assist global citizens to connect as humanity so that everyone can discover the abundance that is already present now and ultimately change the world." So far, the members of World Abundance delivered clothing, food and toys to San Quitin, Mexico, and are beginning a more sustainable program to teach farmers new techniques to turn crops. The group has also helped to build a school outside of Guatemala City, Guatemala.
Sundberg’s trip to survey Chadian refugee camps is an important first step in World Abundance’s next project, he explains.
"We really felt like, if we could come down and build secondary schools, it could be a big help for the community, but this trip was largely about what does that really look like? We needed to get the lay of the land," Sundberg explains.
He plans to return in May to begin to bring secondary education to the Farchana refugee camps in Chad, one of 12 that house nearly 600,000 people. He also hopes to begin a sustainable program for the single mothers and their families: For $50, he says women will make earthen bricks to build homes to replace weathered five-year-old camp tents.
He anticipates the new, warmer and dryer shelters will ameliorate the amount of disease that prevails within camps, eliminate the danger of gathering wood where rebel militias typically attack and rape women, and also provide something of an economy inside the camp.
"The premise of World Abundance is, in a very general way, is that we want to counteract negativity in any given area, whether it’s poverty, whether it’s war, whether it’s disease, whether it’s natural disaster," he says. "There’s always a negative force working, but you can counteract it with positive."
To learn more about World Abundance, visit http://www.abundantnews.tv. To learn more about Stop Genocide Now, visit stopgenocidenow.org.
Darfur genocide statistics as of 2008
Numbers compiled by Stop Genocide Now activists:
The death toll has reached up to 400,000 people since February 2003
More than 500 people die each day, 15,000 each month
More than 2.5 million people have been driven from their homes
More than 200,000 have fled to refugee camps in neighboring Chad
As many as 1 million civilians could die in Darfur from lack of food and from disease within coming months
Eighty percent of the children under five years old are suffering from severe malnutrition and many are dying each day
Humanitarian-aid organizations have access to only 20 percent of those affected