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Students carry on call to solidarity

Mary Kate Malone | Monday, January 31, 2005

When Laura Feeney and Emily Chin returned from Africa last winter, they brought back a new appreciation for African culture and society – and a determination to spread their passion with the rest of the University.

“When we were in Africa, we spoke about how we would promote African awareness back home,” Chin said. “So we are just answering the call and taking the initiative to spark the student body’s interest.”

The result of their work is the development of a weeklong initiative that will encompass nearly all organizations on campus, ending with, organizers hope, a lecture or benefit concert by humanitarian leader and U2 member Bono.

“This will be the first campus-wide event that would be a collaboration of all the resources that we have around one cause,” Chin said. “We want all the groups on campus to get their hands in it and to feel like they’re a part of one cause.”

Feeney and Chin, along with 12 other youth representatives, traveled to Nigeria from Jan. 1-12, 2004. While there, they attended a conference aimed at eliminating the misconceptions about Africa. They also met with various leaders from Catholic Relief Services and Bread for the World.

But it was the people of Africa that left the biggest imprint, Feeney said.

“The people are so aware of their problems and their poverty,” Feeney said. “They are so caring and they want to help themselves so badly, but they need someone to help them do it. They just do not have the resources.”

With the help of juniors Meghan Hanzlik and Katie Connel, they have begun to finalize their plans for a event tentatively titled “Africa Week,” which will likely take place in April.

“It is still in the planning stages, but we have discussed bringing in speakers, luminaries and a film festival,” Connel said.

The organizers have set their sights high and are taking measures to bring U2’s Bono to campus to speak about Africa’s AIDS crisis, and also the continent’s cultural beauty.

Bono, well known for his passionate support of Africa, would be a hugely effective addition to Africa Week, Hanzlik said.

“We want him to come to campus in any way that he can. He has done amazing things in Africa,” Hanzlik said. “He is an advocate of our cause and he can demonstrate how one person can make a huge difference.”

Despite his enormous popularity and busy concert schedule, the likelihood of Bono coming, at least as a speaker, seems promising. Since his concert at Notre Dame in spring 2002, he has spoken fondly of the University, Hanzlik said.

“Bono has always said he would love to come back to Notre Dame,” Hanzlik said. “It’s just a matter of him fitting us into his schedule.”

Knowing Bono historically has come to schools that demonstrate strong student interest, the girls have appealed to the Student Senate to endorse their idea. The girls wrote a letter to Bono’s agent, and presented it to the senate in the hopes of gathering greater support form student government.

“I thought they wrote a good letter,” Siegfried senator James Leito said. “And the senators decided to do a letter of their own. The girls’ letter was more down to earth. We wanted to write a letter from one professional group to another.”

The senate’s letter, along with the letter written by the organizers of Africa week, will be sent to Bono’s agent.

“But Africa Week will go one regardless of whether or not we can get Bono or U2,” Feeney said. “But he’s Irish, we’re Irish, and it would be great if he could come.”

In addition, the group has been circulating a petition through the dorms and plans to set up booths around campus to gather signatures and demonstrate student solidarity behind the African cause.

Senate has been behind the cause since the fall, and continues to support the efforts. But Leito was quick to note that the events and the pursuit of Bono are not senate projects.

“This is not a Senate project, we are just showing support,” Leito said.

Hanzlik believes the nature of Notre Dame – its students and its wealth – will make the event a success.

“It’s about using what you have to help others and that’s what Notre Dame is all about,” Hanzlik said. “When you’re given so much, what are you going to do with it?”