David Thon, graduate of Mars Hill College in North Carolina and survivor of the Darfur genocide, gave a lecture on his life story Friday, March 2. He discussed his experiences in Darfur, a western region of Sudan, and intermixed his life story with the need for a solution to the violence.
Thon reflected on the Sudanese government attacking his village, coming to the United States and the present-day situation of Sudan.
Since early 2003, the Sudanese government-backed militia, the “Janjaweed,” has been fighting two rebel groups in Darfur. As a result of this conflict, the Sudanese government’s regular armed forces and the Janjaweed have killed nearly 3 million people. The civilians are faced with mass murder, rape, torture and other atrocities every day. Sudanese children have been separated from their families and have tried to cross the border to flee the government. Thon became one of the lucky ones after receiving assistance from the American government and joining a band of boys, who are today known as “The Lost Boys of the Sudan.”
Briana Villei, freshman psychology major and Bonner Scholar at the College, was alarmed at the situation described in Thon’s speech.
“I thought that meeting David … was an eye-opening experience,” she said. “I had heard about Darfur before but I did not grasp just how bad it was, and hearing a first person testimony on what is currently taking place there altered the entire way I think.”
Thon said in 1987 everything in his village was destroyed, so when he was 7 years old he and his group found their way to a refugee camp in Ethiopia. After leaving Ethiopia due to civil war, Thon fled the border of Sudan again when he came to another camp in Kenya.
Thon explained he was chosen out of millions of refugees to come to the United States after going through a series of interviews with the Americans who came to document the experiences of the Darfur refugees.
The first step for Thon was to succeed living in an entirely new country and to deal with the culture shock of moving.Thon had to learn a new language, learn how to cook and learn how to take the bus to work every day. Thon was determined to succeed in America, so he worked 48 hours a week and went to community college for a year.
“We had to struggle for each day,” Thon said. Thon also advocated the need for proper education. To that end, he chose to attend Mars Hill College. While in college he participated in the Bonner Organization, a program that provides funding for education in exchange for social service activities. To afford his schooling, Thon performed 280 hours of community service each year.
“We must tell the world we care about these issues,” Thon said.
Leanne Hershkowitz, sophomore education/psychology major and Bonner Scholar at the College, was also moved by Thon’s speech.
“Meeting David gives you new inspiration and drive to continue the work you want to do,” she said. “David looks at his life as a gift. He enjoys every minute of his life and takes nothing for granted.”
Taking part in community service has allowed Thon to realize there are desperate people just like him. It has motivated him to speak out about Darfur to people all over the world. He focuses on getting college students involved in Darfur’s cause.
“Every time people meet us they are changed, and I know we were created to do great things,” Thon said.
Unfortunately, Sudan has experienced the effects of the failed Darfur Peace Agreement. The Sudanese government continues taking advantage of the people and the African Union, which makes it hard for the Sudanese to escape genocide. Even though humanitarian aid agencies are helping Sudan, it is an uphill battle.
Thon expressed the need for a United States attempt to make peace, and for other countries to become more involved and increase the amount of security in Sudan.
He concluded his lecture by posing the idea of the youth taking a stand on these issues so Sudan can finally have long and lasting peace.
“In spite of all the problems there is hope, and there is hope in you,” Thon said.
Allison O’Neill, junior education major and Bonner Scholar at the College, found renewed hope in Thon’s speech.
“He explained that the people of Darfur may never see us, but it is still important to fight for them and make the world aware of the atrocities that are occurring because that is our human duty,” she said. “And in doing this, we are giving them hope.”