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Canadian MP battles distress in Darfur

After working for 10 years in southern Sudan, Liberal MP Glen Pearson got caught up in Darfur’s suffering.

After working for 10 years in southern Sudan, Liberal MP Glen Pearson got caught up in Darfur’s suffering.

When crisis erupted in the western region of Sudan, Pearson decided to stay out of it.

Then, Darfur came to him.

Last year, while Pearson was working in the region south of Darfur, 100,000 refugees were discovered.

“Rather than going west into Chad as they normally do they came East — out to where we are,” he said.

“We just discovered them, they were living in swamps in just terrible conditions.”

Pearson’s organization was able to obtain $3 million from the Canadian government to feed these refugees and give them some shelter.

“We had been thinking that now that there was peace they could start to build schools and develop,” he said.

“Then all of a sudden we were back into a human rights situation with the arrival of all of these Darfur people.

“It’s like the end of one war and the beginning of another.”

The event drew Pearson into the Darfur conflict and forced him to speak out against it.

Pearson will be the keynote speaker Thursday night at a forum on Darfur at Yukon College.

Darfur is the number 1 human rights concern of Canadians, said Pearson.

“There’s an overall general awareness about Darfur,” he said.

“But also for the people who are more aware of it then most — those people are frustrated because so little is happening.”

It’s difficult to know exactly how many people have been affected in the Darfur crisis since it began four years ago.

Human rights groups estimate 400,000 people have been murdered.

Another 800,000 to 1 million people have been displaced as a result of the war.

Trying to end the crises through military means would be a disaster, said Pearson.

“We can’t put any Canadian, American or British troops in there,” he said.

“But to put the western troops on the ground would just invite groups like al-Qaeda and others to move into that area and see it as western imperialism again.”

Instead, western nations are trying to provide support for an ill-equipped African Union force.

Pearson and his wife Jane Roy became involved in southern Sudan in 1998 when they heard reports of slavery in the area.

“We were shocked at that and decided we would go over and investigate it ourselves,” said Pearson.

The pair had worked in conflict areas in the past, including Rwanda, Bosnia, Somalia, Bangladesh and Iraq.

Not only did they discover that there was slavery going on, but also that the Sudanese government was involved.

The couple set up an NGO to get people out of slavery and back to their home in southern Sudan.

The organization, Canadian Aid for Southern Sudan, freed more than 10,000 slaves in the first four years they were there.

Afterwards, the couple turned their attention to educating the former slaves and reintegrating them into society.

Pearson and his wife also adopted three youngsters from Darfur.

When they adopted a little girl named Abuk seven years ago, they were told that her family, including her twin sister, had been killed in a raid.

“A few years ago, when we went back for the peace signing, we found another little girl that looked identical to our daughter,” said Pearson.

“So we dug into it and found out that it was her identical twin, Achan.”

Ater, the girls’ older brother had also survived.

They had been caught in the raid and taken back to Darfur and kept for five years.

After two years, Pearson and his wife were able to bring the two additional children home to Canada and reunite the shattered family.

Achan will accompany Pearson on his trip to Whitehorse.

The children love living in Canada, but are still greatly affected by their traumatic past.

“Our son keeps having nightmares, not as often as he used to but he keeps screaming during the night just because of the things he remembers,” said Pearson.

“He remembers his mom being raped, he remembers the raid where his mother was killed and he was separated from little Abuk, our daughter that we’ve had for seven years.”

Seeing his sister again has caused many of these painful memories to resurface.

Pearson is trying to raise awareness of the crisis in Darfur and encourage some action from members of Parliament.

Canada is already the fourth-largest contributor to Darfur.

“The issue has not been one of Canadian generosity to Darfur,” said Pearson.

“What’s missing is leadership — some world leader willing to call other world leaders to account.

“This is something that the Canadian government could do.

“Until the governments of the world begin to act pretty clearly, the government of Sudan is getting away with mass murder,” he added.

The best thing for Canadians to do is write to potential champions in Ottawa, such as the foreign affairs minister and the prime minister, said Pearson.

“If more Canadians expressed their outrage and asked for Canada to show leadership, the prime minister would listen.”

There are also hundreds of thousands of refugees who are in serious need of food and clothing.

“We met 30 families when we were there in January that didn’t have a stitch of clothing,” said Pearson.

“They didn’t have one thing. Their villages had been burned and here they were in these swamps and we had to bring in all these things for them.”

By making donations to the many organizations working with these refugees and others like them, it’s quite possible for average Canadians to make a difference.

The cross-country community forum on the on-going crisis in Darfur/Sudan will be held on Thursday, March 27 at Yukon College from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m.