PORTLAND – El-Fadel Arbab of Portland tells his story about escaping the genocide in Darfur as often as he can.

He speaks in schools, universities and community centers around Maine and the country. A book about his life is due out later this year.

It’s a mission that began in 2008, when he went to Washington, D.C., for a rally to end the violence in Darfur. One speaker in particular, author and activist John Prendergast, inspired him to speak out, he said,

Until then, Arbab said, “I didn’t know how to … tell my story.”

Tonight, Al-Fadel will welcome Prendergast to Portland. An internationally known co-founder of the Enough Project, Prendergast will appear at the University of Southern Maine to deliver the annual Douglas M. Schair Memorial Lecture on Genocide and Human Rights.

Prendergast will speak about the ongoing violence and human-rights struggles in Darfur, a region of western Sudan, and other war-torn regions of Africa. The lecture is free and open to the public and starts at 7 p.m. in the Hannaford Lecture Hall in the Abromson Center on Bedford Street.

Prendergast is known for his work with celebrities such as actor Don Cheadle as well as with the United Nations and government leaders in the U.S. and other countries.

“He’s an extraordinary guy. He has the ear of everybody,” said Abraham Peck, visiting professor and director of Holocaust, Genocide, and Human Rights Studies at the University of Maine in Augusta.

Peck said he hopes this year’s Schair lecture, the sixth, will remind people in Maine to demand and work for peace in Darfur. The successful vote in January for independence in southern Sudan, a separate region of the country, has taken focus and political pressure away from the crisis in Darfur, according to Peck.

“There are villages that continue to be raided and there are refugees that continue to flee across the border to Chad. Nothing is changing” in Darfur, Peck said. “If we lose focus, we are putting more and more people’s lives in danger.”

Arbab, now 26, escaped Darfur as a child and remembers elders and children being rounded up and burned to death. He then escaped slavery in Karthoum, Sudan’s capital, he said. He eventually reached the United States in 2004 and settled in Portland, where he got a job, learned English and became a citizen.

The memories of his childhood were a heavy burden as he established a new life in Maine.

“It was hard for me to sleep at night or to eat,” he said. “I thought if I can tell my story, I will feel better.”

At the rally in Washington, Prendergast spoke about the need for survivors to organize and teach, and Arbab decided that’s what he would do. He even began on the train ride home, when he introduced himself to the family of a teenage girl wearing a “Save Darfur” T-shirt, he said. He would later give his first speech at the girl’s high school in Massachusetts.

Arbab came home in 2008. He is now a leader of the Fur Cultural Revival in Portland and a busy lecturer. He will introduce Prendergast tonight.

Staff Writer John Richardson can be contacted at 791-6324 or at:

[email protected]

 


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