Campus / News / April 15, 2009

Amnesty International and Genocide Awareness Month

As their first event for Genocide Awareness Month, Amnesty International collaborated with Harambee to host an African luncheon with a showing of the documentary Darfur Now at Wilson House. The event, which raised about $150 from students who each donated $5, was a fundraiser for the Sudanese Community Center in Naperville, IL, which provides transitional help to those of Sudanese descent including the ‘Lost Boys’ and refugees from the Darfur region.

Amnesty International is an organization that works to improve human rights and focuses on issues such as abolition of the death penalty and genocide in Darfur. President of Amnesty International at Knox, Ramya Venigalla, said, “The Center is about ten minutes from my parents’ house so it’s really nice to be able to see our efforts for this global cause helping people at such a local level…I am visiting the center to see if they will come to Knox and to do their presentation about the experience of the ‘Lost Boys’ and Darfur natives who have come to Illinois. Knox students would be able to attend the event and later interact with the Sudanese immigrants. The ‘Lost Boys’ are those ‘who walked thousands of miles after their villages were destroyed and their family members killed during Sudan’s civil war.”

Amnesty International at Knox has changed over the recent years. When Venigalla was a freshman member, Amnesty International lost many members after they graduated. In past years, they have focused mainly on letter writing.

“We write an urgent action letter every week, and our past letters have been about topics ranging from health care policies in California, the release of Troy Davis, a prisoner who has been on death row for the past two decades without substantial evidence, and whose sister we met when we went to the Amnesty International Annual General Meeting (AGM) in Boston at the beginning of this term, the rights of the Roma people, release of Tibetan monks, and the release of Prisoners of Conscience in Zimbabwe.”

Currently, Amnesty International still does letter writing campaigns but has focused on doing other events such as those for Genocide Awareness Month. The first major event Amnesty International had this year was a booth at I-Fair, where people decorated t-shirts and wrote letters to President Barack Obama. They raised $90 in two hours.

Venigalla said, “I’ve had a few people ask me if I really thought that writing the letters and being involved in Amnesty [International] is really worth it in the big scheme of things. When we went to the AGM in Boston, Jenni Williams from Women of Zimbabwe Arise was there. We had written letters for their release earlier this year, and hearing her tell us about how the thousands of letters that poured in through [Amnesty International] members around the world helped end the imprisonment and torture of her group was one of the most moving experiences of my life.”

For Genocide Awareness Month, there will be an event called Dye for Darfur on Saturday April 25th on the lawn in front of the Gizmo patio introducing Amnesty International’s photo exhibit about Darfur. It will feature tie-dyeing, a letter writing campaign, and African Music.

Other events Amnesty International has planned for the term include a rally in Chicago for Darfur, a summer trip to New Orleans with Hands On New Orleans and working with Alderman Corrine Anderson on a community garden effort.

Venigalla said, “A really good friend sent me a Swahili proverb that I think is so perfect for the way Amnesty International works: ‘If you ever think we are too small to make a difference, try spending the night cooped up with a mosquito.’”

Amnesty International has meetings on Mondays at 8pm in the upstairs of the Human Rights Center.

For more information on the events or if you would like to be involved with Amnesty International, contact President Ramya Venigalla at

Sheena Leano

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