Darfur refugees offer lesson on being grateful

The byline on this column was corrected on 3/5/08 at 10:07 a.m.

It’s amazing that hearing someone’s life story can change our perceptions of them. But more importantly, it can often change the way we see ourselves.

One night when Rebecca was just a toddler, she woke up to the sounds of bombs and gunfire, screaming and panic. In an instant, her family was brutally killed, her village burned to the ground, her home gone. She escaped, but the months to follow were difficult. A toddler, ripped from her life, walked hundreds of miles with whatever group of people she could find. She lived off scarce plants and even scarcer water. Day after day she walked, until one day she arrived at a refugee camp.

Rebecca was soon found by distant relatives who vowed to care for her. But the next several years were spent on the run, in fear of the militiamen who constantly wreaked havoc on innocent communities.

Rebecca’s story is not uncommon. She is a Sudanese refugee whose journey is chronicled in Beverly Parkhurst-Moss’s upcoming book, “Dark Exodus: The Lost Girls of Sudan.” While the book only provides a glimpse of the trials Rebecca endured in Africa, her story should serve as a reminder to all of us that we are incredibly privileged in comparison.

Rebecca is one of nearly 4 million people who have lost their homes and families in the Darfur region of Sudan. These people have seen years of government-sponsored violence that aims to rape, kill, torture and systematically eliminate the Christians, non-Arabs, or any supposed enemy of the state. Death toll estimates since 2003 have reached more than 400,000, according to SaveDarfur.org.

I’ve heard the statistics a thousand times. I’ve seen the graphic photos of mass graves and starving children, and I’ve heard dozens of stories. But when Parkhurst-Moss visited campus last week, I was able to look into the eyes of five young women from Sudan who came with her. I heard their stories of how they survived the most heartbreaking struggles before reaching the U.S.

But while their stories were wrenching, their eyes were everything – symbols of all they had seen, endured and felt for years. Their eyes were not bitter or angry. Sadness and despair were faint as their faith and their thankfulness to God for their blessings shined through brighter and stronger than anything I had ever seen.

To have seen your siblings tortured, your father killed, your children raped and enslaved, how could anyone possibly show such strength in the aftermath?

Not many of us would consider childhoods ravaged by fear and violence to be the origins of blessings. Few of us could imagine living in true poverty and, at the same time, pure trust. And I’d venture to say a number of us consider TCU parking lots, a rough day at work or mounting midterms to be the pitfalls of our day. A day in fear of rape, torture, death, starvation or disease is far from our grasp.

It’s a perspective I can’t shake. Why is our society so shallow, so assuming, so indifferent? How can I live a life that in comparison is immensely diluted, yet lacking any sort of thankfulness? The power of those women’s eyes struck me so deep, I felt utterly ashamed of the life I take for granted.

We place so much importance on our Americanized materialism that we overlook the big picture. We fail to recognize the world existing outside of the “bubbles” we live in, turning our eyes from those who need our help.

There were four other women who sat before me; each had their own story of intense hardship and pain for which words are insufficient. But each held a sense of graciousness stronger than I could ever claim for myself. And all they hoped for was that someone listening would help Darfur.

Marissa Walker is a senior advertising/public relations major from Lockhart.