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Congregations Work for Darfur Awareness With Tents of Hope
Congregations Work for Darfur Awareness With Tents of Hope
International Engagement & Building Peace

Across the United States, hundreds of religious and secular communities are working to improve the lives of refugees in Darfur and Chad. The "Tents of Hope" Project is bringing attention to the plight of the millions who are facing genocide in Darfur. By pitching tents in their neighborhoods, they call public attention to the growing humanitarian crisis half a world away. Currently fifty Unitarian Universalist (UU) congregations from Anaheim, California to Washington, DC, are planning on pitching a tent in their front yards.

Armed with $500 canvas relief tents and informational flyers from the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee (UUSC), these activists are raising our awareness while working to better the lives of those in Darfur. Each tent will be decorated by the congregation's members—often youth—and displayed before being sent to Washington, DC. There, hundreds of tents from all over the United States will be erected on the National Mall before the Capitol Building. For one weekend in November, Americans will see what many see every day in Darfur and Chad: a city of tents. After the event in Washington, the tents, along with supplies, will be sent to refugee camps in Africa.

The UUSC has many educational resources available to support this project, including T-shirts, pins, posters and postcards. Among these resources are informational postcards addressed to Sen. Bill Nelson, Chair of the International Human Rights Subcommittee. These cards call for stronger protections for women in Darfuri refugee camps, including firewood patrols, prevention of sexual harassment and rape, and recruitment of female peacekeepers in the camps.

Many congregations used their engagement in this project as a social justice activity for youth in the church. Lillian Drab, youth programs coordinator for the First UU Church of Dallas, explained how the youth worked through the summer decorating their tent. The youth had a “lock-in” sleepover where they met with a member of their congregation who recently returned from Darfur. The youth then spent every Sunday from June through August painting murals onto the panels of the tent. The tent now sits in front of the church where it will stay until November, when the youth plan to deliver the tent to Washington personally. Drab says, “While it is the youth who are the leaders on this project, the whole church is involved, too.”

UU World reported on the actions of two other participating congregations. The UU Congregation at Shelter Rock in Manhasset, NY, and the UU Church of Kent, OH, painted their tents with messages of love and hope for the victims of the violence.

Chris Bremer of the First Universalist Church of Minneapolis, MN, took  postcards to her women’s group to have people sign and send them. Holly Williams of the UU Church of Lancaster, PA, got 100 postcards sent to her U.S. senator's office in support of aid to Darfur.

The Worcester Telegram & Gazette reported on the UU Congregational Society of Westborough, MA, who teamed up with Christians and Jews to buy tents. Five religious communities have worked to paint and display their tents; all five tents will be erected in front of the UU church in a display of unity. Chair of the Westborough congregation’s social justice committee, Ann-Louise Salim, notes this is the first interfaith work the youth of the congregation have participated in.

Unitarian Universalists are not the only group who use the resources of the UUSC. Rev. Karen Hundreiser, minister of the United Methodist Church of Worth, IL, received information on Darfur from the UUSC. Hundresier's church has been invited to participate in a gathering of tents that will be held in Grant Park in Chicago. Several tents will be on display in downtown Chicago at an event called “Stop the Violence” on October 26th.

These stories represent a fraction of the people who worked through September to make the Tents of Hope project a reality. 385 people visited the project's online Campaign Headquarters, 198 people sent emails to President Bush, and 40 congregations have ordered campaign materials from the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee.

There is still time for your congregation to get involved! To find out how, check out the information from the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) Advocacy and Witness staff group on the September Action of the Month: Tents of Hope. You can learn how to get a tent and acquire the UUSC's educational materials. If you have a story to tell or pictures to share of your tent, please send it to peacemaking [at] uua [dot] org.

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