Every Voice Matters: The Story of SGN
Gabriel Stauring never intended to start a humanitarian organization. In fact he didn’t start out as an activist at all.
In 2004, Gabriel was working with abused children as an in-home therapist in Southern California. He had no experience with activism or advocacy. But shortly after the tenth anniversary of the Rwandan genocide, he read about what was happening in Darfur for the first time.
“It hit me hard,” he says. “I felt guilty about not doing anything in 1994. When I started to hear about Darfur, I said, ‘I’ve got to do something.’”
For Gabriel, ignoring the truth was no longer an option. “I felt that there was a great need for people to connect on a personal level with it on both sides—connecting with the victims, and also here at home, knowing that you could have an impact no matter who you are.”
It was this line of thought that propelled Gabriel to found Stop Genocide Now in 2005. The organization’s goal is to “change the way the world responds to genocide by putting a face to the numbers of dead, dying and displaced.” Each of their innovative projects utilizes the strength and power of grassroots connectivity.
One of the most indelible lessons of Obama’s historic bid for President was that grassroots campaigns have the power to set the world aflame. And for SGN, the grassroots focus was the key to showing individual people that they could make a difference. People like Katie-Jay Scott
Katie-Jay was a full-time student and an AmeriCorps volunteer when she heard an activist speak about her time at a refugee camp on the Chad-Darfur border. “I remember sitting there,” she says, “listening to her presentation, and thinking, ‘This is my chance to do something.’ So I put on one of those green bracelets. That was the beginning of my activism. You start really small.”
It didn’t take Katie long to find other people who wanted to do something about the genocide in Darfur. So they formed an ad hoc group, dubbed themselves the Portland Coalition for Genocide Awareness, and organized a genocide awareness month in Portland, Oregon. They brought in filmmakers, gave presentations, and worked with local schools and synagogues.
Then, someone said, “We should bring in Camp Darfur.”
Camp Darfur is one of the primary programs SGN brings to schools and communities around the country—an interactive awareness and education event. When Gabriel came to Portland with Camp Darfur, he met Katie and offered her a job. Stop Genocide Now had doubled its staff—Gabriel and Katie were the first two full-time staff members!
Today SGN has more than twelve active members, and nine board members sitting on the advisory committee. Gabriel, Katie, and their colleagues have made eight trips to the refugee camps, and are currently preparing for a ninth. They’ve built strong relationships with the refugees, relationships that continue to evolve and strengthen as the years go by.
These eight trips are part of the revolutionary i-Act project, something unique to SGN. As a part of i-Act, the SGN team posts daily webcasts during each trip, creating a vibrant, interconnected community between activists and individuals worldwide. Capitalizing on the wondrous potential of the internet, they keep a blog that allows them to interact with people anywhere in the world. In turn, international website visitors can see the human face of the ongoing crisis, ask questions, and make comments. The extensive video library that accompanies each i-Act journey includes many short films featuring the refugees themselves.
“We work at a very grassroots level,” Gabriel explains. “It’s not just the big, huge, horrible numbers. Each number is an individual. We also believe that advocacy has to work that way. It’s important that the regular person, each individual, feels empowered that they can make a difference in something as huge as this.”
Gabriel Stauring has undergone quite a transformation. Today he is an international activist and innovator—something that, six years ago, he never imagined. But it’s exactly the kind of story that makes Stop Genocide Now so unique: the idea of one individual taking “small, practical action that results in large, seemingly impracticable change.”
Every action—even the smallest one—makes a ripple. That ripple becomes a wave, and enough waves can rock the ocean.
So what are you waiting for?
Ideas for your first ripple:
▪ If you’re planning a dinner, event, or get-together for World Refugee Day, SGN will supply you with video materials…for free! Contact them and they’ll send you a DVD with film clips from their time in Africa so your group can hear the stories of real refugees.
▪ It’s okay to start small. Tell five people about what’s happening in Darfur, and give them information about where they can find out more.
▪ Bombard your U.S. representative with postcards, letters, and phone calls, urging them to speak out about changing the way the U.S. is implementing Sudan policy.
▪ Join the Genocide Intervention Network and the Save Darfur Coalition on Meetup.com to meet up with refugees and activists who live in your community.
▪ Find out more ways to get involved by visiting SGN’s iAct-Zine: Issue 16: http://bit.ly/cOA6GK