Approximately 400,000 people have died in the Darfur region of Sudan, and almost 2.5 million have been “displaced,” according to estimates by the now defunct Coalition for International Justice. As a reaction to this, computer engineering freshman Jeremy Riddell-Kaufman has set up his own advocacy group: 400,000 Faces.
He created the project looking to get 400,000 people to join, with each person representing someone who has died in Darfur. The group plans to compile 100 pictures of its members on a page and have a “lay-down” of 4,000 pages around 212 college campuses on April 28.
“My passion for advocacy stems back to my junior year in high school,” Riddell-Kaufman said. He spent his junior year in Israel visiting concentration camps from the Holocaust and talking with a survivor.
“What (the survivor) said was incredibly moving,” Riddell-Kaufman said. He asked her what he could do to help. “Her answer was that ‘you’re the dream that we fought every day to keep alive.’”
Riddell-Kaufman then made it his mission to do everything in his power to make a difference.
“When I learned about Darfur during my senior year, I felt a connection,” he said.
Inspiration also came from the “Paperclips Campaign,” in which a million paperclips were collected to show how many people were killed during the Holocaust. To incorporate photos of members into his group, Riddell-Kaufman decided to promote 400,000 Faces through facebook, the social networking Web site.
“When I was typing up information for facebook, peoples’ pictures were already on it, all someone would have to do is join,” Riddell-Kaufman said. The group grew exponentially, receiving 15,000 to 20,000 new members per day until it leveled off between 2,000 and 5,000 a day. The advocacy club reached its 400,000 member goal on Jan. 9 and has since been oscillating.
As for the photos, they were collected on Jan. 15 under guidelines provided by facebook. “We’ve worked with facebook on how to get the pictures and we are under contract with them so that we can only use those pictures specifically for this project,” Riddell-Kaufman said.
The lay-down is scheduled for April 28 during rallies for Darfur that will happen at universities across the nation. A photo of the event will then be sent to congressmen, U.N. officials, local and major news stations, and those whose influence matters and have the best chance to create change.
The group is working with Amnesty International to promote their cause with fundraising and the distribution portion of the project. “They’ve helped out significantly,” Riddell-Kaufman said. “Being part of Amnesty . helps with credibility; we are no longer just a facebook group.”
Riddell-Kaufman, while receiving interest from across the nation in his efforts to help the Darfur conflict, has also gotten help from organizations and students at Cal Poly including the Student Community Services’ group Raise the Respect and people from Student Life and Leadership.
“If students come with a social issue, we really try to help,” said Stephan Lamb, associate director of Student Life and Leadership. “I also just think it’s a wonderful idea.”
With the support from Cal Poly and the 400,000 other people that have joined the group, Riddell-Kaufman is looking to make a change. He has organized chapters and promoted his own representatives to keep the program going, and to follow through with trying to get Congress, the U.N. or even the Bush administration to help alleviate the situation in Sudan.
Riddell-Kaufman keeps an optimistic outlook on the success of the project.
“I definitely think this will make an impact,” he said. “And even if it doesn’t wake up the entire nation, what I’ve found is that in every 1,000 people, there are a few that are willing to put in an enormous amount of work.”
For more information about the 400,000 Faces project, check it out on facebook or the Web sites www.studentsfordarfur.org and www.amnestyusa.org.