Rochester Sudanese protest to raise awareness about strife in their native country

Jun 16, 2019

Sisters Rawa and Rahel Gabrezgheier hold up signs at a protest in Rochester on Saturday about conditions in Sudan.
Credit April Franklin / WXXI News

Over the weekend in downtown Rochester dozens of people stood together wearing blue-themed clothing with signs in hand at the Liberty Pole for a peaceful protest to bring awareness about problems in Sudan. 

Protesters say that earlier this month the country’s Transitional Military Council killed more than 100 protesters, who were involved in a pro-democracy demonstration.

Sudan's health ministry, which is controlled by the military, disagrees about the number. They put the death toll in the 40s. The protesters have been demanding fair elections. Sudan's longtime dictator, Omar al-Bashir, was forced out in April. 

In Rochester on Saturday, college students Olaa Muhammad, Hager Elkhdir, and Abdelorahman Nahar  organized the event. Political issues in Sudan have been 30 years in the making and many young Sudanese people living  in Rochester are still deeply connected to the country, where they have cultural ties.

That includes young people like University of Rochester student Elkhdir, who grew up living between Egypt and the U.S.  She said that her mother often calls in the middle of the night to check on loved ones.

"What’s happened in Sudan has impacted me not only in my family, but...I have had come sort of a like an identity crisis kind of, because I moved to Egypt and I moved to the U.S.,  and I’m like, oh, 'I got to get in touch of my roots,' and...I have never fully lived in Sudan, but it’s still a part of me and it’s an identity that I can’t  deny for myself," said Elkhdir.

Elkhdir and organizers used social media to bring dozens of people from multiple college campuses to Rochester for the protest. Allison Nessor traveled all the way from Cornell Univerity in Ithaca to show her support.

"I felt kind of helpless and like I just wanted to something basically and think this is really what we can do in our position," said Nessor.

Fellow organizer and U of R student Abdelorahman Nahar says that situations like the killings in Sudan have been happening in other parts of the country since 2003, and he said that is important for non- Sudanese people to be informed. He's concerned that people here will not understand just how serious the situation is in Sudan.

Nahar is worried, that people will say, "Oh, it's Africa, it’s a continent with all the strife and conflict and death."  Nahar said this is a humanitarian issue.

The country has had no internet access since June 3 and  as a way to raise awareness, and be a voice for the Sudanese people,  protest organizers have started an informational campaign using social media, which they say has received a lot of attention.  

Organizers say they will continue to spread the message as long as they need to.

NPR and CITY Newspaper contributed to this story.