Thursday, February 26, 2009

A Multimedia Look Into Darfur

Returning to my journalistic roots, I'm impressed by some of the multimedia I've recently stumbled across that examine the atrocities in Darfur. Human Rights Watch (HRW) has an in-depth display of interactive journalism that really educates people in a more stimulating manner than just reading a news article or watching a two-minute news segment on television (not that these basic journalism methods aren't important).

Released in August 2008, Failing Darfur burrows deep into the five-year conflict with eye-capturing timelines, videos, photo essays and maps along with informative Q&A's and HRW Reports that have chronicled Darfur throughout the years. One of its more compelling displays is "Smallest Witnesses" which looks at the damage caused through the eyes of children in Darfur. In 2005 HRW investigators gave children paper and crayons to keep them entertained only to find that the drawings they created reflected the unwavering violence and destruction they had experienced.
The first child Human Rights Watch encountered, an eight-year-old named Mohammed, had never held a crayon or pencil before. So Mohammed gave the paper to his brothers. They drew—without any instruction—pictures of Janjaweed on horseback and camel shooting civilians, Antonovs dropping bombs on civilians and houses, an army tank firing on fleeing villagers.
In addition to Darfur, HRW has some other compelling displays that look at the dire situations in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Somalia and Georgia.

The value behind this type of multimedia is that it is a powerful education tool as it is a one-stop shop of visual and engaging information. I wonder if classrooms, whether at the high school or collegiate level, use sources like this when examining foreign affairs, conflicts and genocides. Are these valuable tools able to reach a broad audience or are they staying within a more niche audience of human rights activists?

Another interesting attempt to educate people about Darfur is a viral video game that launched in 2006 and is aimed towards a younger audience. Darfur is Dying was the winning submission from a group of students from the University of Southern California who entered the Darfur Digital Activism Contest sponsored by mtvU, the Reebok Human Rights Foundation and the International Crisis Group.

I actually ran across this game in the spring of 2008 when I began research for my story on Google Earth's Crisis in Darfur map and unfortunately, I'm just getting around to discussing it nearly a year later.

The game is meant to put you in the shoes of the 2.5 million displaced Darfuris who must fend for their lives in refugee camps. In my attempts to play, my body tensed as I became a young Darfuri girl who must fetch water outside of the camp where the threat of being raped and/or murdered follows her day in and day out. While this is just a game, I found myself thinking that if I'm feeling the stress of this virtual life after 15 minutes of playing, I can't even begin to imagine the fear and anxiety those in Darfur have been living with for over five years now. This is the whole point of the game--to make people more socially conscious. It is a great way to really get people to pay attention and empathize and hopefully, take action. Again, the question is how much outreach was the game able to get?

With all of these great ways to spread information and bring awareness, the more pressing issue is how do we make people aware of these tools?

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