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Children of Darfur exhibit makes its way to Keokuk

By Lauren Seibert
Nov. 23, 2009

A tiny Iowa town of about 10,000 people, Keokuk is known for its kooky name and its status as the brief home of John Wayne, but not so much for its link to international affairs. With the arrival of Darfur Alert Coalition (DAC)’s “Children of Darfur” art exhibit, however, Keokuk suddenly finds itself a focus point for raising awareness about the continuing violence in Darfur.

Three years ago, Keokuk resident Julia Hays founded Keokuk for Darfur, a small coalition to educate her community about the crisis and raise funds for relief efforts. Previously, Hays says, knowledge of the situation in Darfur was minimal. “We’re a small population; we’re not really diverse, and we don’t have a refugee population, so it’s not something you see day to day,” she says. “Nobody knew what was going on over there. I mean, the news is so full of fluff—of Michael Jackson and celebrity news. You just don’t hear about it.”

But when Hays happened to see a story about the Darfur genocide on 60 Minutes, the reality of what Darfuris were suffering through struck her. She couldn’t believe no one in Keokuk was helping. “And I thought, why isn’t anybody doing this?” Hays says. “And I thought, well, why am I not doing this?”

Hence Keokuk for Darfur was born, and the group has since given talks and issued newspaper editorials to raise awareness of the genocide. Hays knew of Doctors Without Borders and their art exhibit of drawings made by Darfuri children in refugee camps, but not until she stumbled across DAC’s website did she realize she could bring the exhibit to Keokuk.

“We hope to let people know that what’s going on in Darfur is not over with—it’s still genocide—and let them know that the impact of the violence and what it’s done to the children,” says Hays. “Hopefully they’ll see that through the drawings.”

In January the Children of Darfur exhibit will be displayed in Keokuk’s Art Center at the library, where plenty of people in the community flowing in and out will see it. Hays hopes the exhibit will raise some funds, and she plans on approaching high school teachers about incorporating it in future lesson plans.

“We’ve talked a lot about what’s going on over there, but we really never focused on the impact on the children,” explains Hays. “I think this is an interesting way to tie that in.”

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