Banners and flags waving, a conglomerate of shouting college students stood in the middle of the street. The women, with headscarves and stern expressions, were not willing to back down.
The University of Khartoum students began protesting in mid-June against a corrupt Sudanese government that had abandoned its people to the claws of inflation and poverty.
At the same time, halfway around the world, scores of public school students are being left behind as the School District of Philadelphia slashes its budget. In response, local organizations have pledged to provide funding to the lagging school system.
These two seemingly unrelated issues are tied at their core by an identical thread — a failure of government policy and an insurgence of community intervention.
To be sure, I am not delusional — the issues facing Sudanese citizens and those facing students of Philadelphia are not one in the same. They do, however, represent similar injustices. Rather than acting to enrich the lives of their citizens, certain governments have decided to make life more difficult for their own people. Rather than making education and food their top priorities, they have foregone these basic goods, instead opting to increase correctional and defense spending.
Despite the wide development gap between Sudan and the United States, many of the issues facing Sudanese citizens hit our Philly backyards. A comparison of the two adds a more nuanced look into the challenges faced by marginalized citizens of all countries, developed or not.
Young students of Khartoum united with their Sudanese brethren in Darfur, the Nuba regions and the East in a common struggle against a government that has done nothing but start wars against their citizens. Mass media has been quick to cover the atrocities in Darfur, but has shined little light on the rising protests internally and externally. In the first 10 days of protests alone, there were over 10 thousand demonstrators, and majors rallies were held in New York, London and Paris, according to reports by the news agency Agence France-Presse.
This was a cry from Sudanese citizens and the diaspora urging the government to work towards pacifying the wars it started — which have contributed to the whopping 40 percent poverty rate and 30.4 percent inflation rate, according to AFP — or to step down.
Closer to home, the Philadelphia school system is collapsing. According to the Notebook, a nonprofit blog for educators and citizens at large, the school district’s budget is being cut by $282 million. The devastating shortfall will lead to the closing of more facilities, cutting of jobs and an increase in taxes. Education had the biggest cut in Pennsylvania’s budget, larger than any other sector. All while the corrections budget increased — but not by as much as it normally increases, as the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette astutely noted.
Like local protests in Sudan, the Philadelphia community has responded to the crisis at hand. The William Penn foundation donated $15 million to help mitigate the achievement gap between low- and high-income students, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer. Our esteemed government is now relying on handouts from philanthropic organizations. All of which have their own agenda, which may or may not be in the public’s best interest.
When did auctioning a school on eBay, which a school outside of Philadelphia attempted to do, become acceptable? When did doubling the price of food and fuel, as the Sudanese government did, become acceptable? When did closing schools become an answer to the performance gap?
For some time now, we have been so accustomed to this notion of individuality and lack of collective support that we were willing to ignore the failing health and educational issues facing our citizens, both locally or internationally. Blaming them, not on a failing system, but on individuals. I worked hard, people will say, to earn what I have accomplished, others should too.
Unfortunately, that is not how the world works. Despite the protests of thousands of Sudanese youth, there has been minimal attention paid to them by the media. Despite the fact that schools are being shut down in our backyards, we have seen little to no dramatic action — other than a plan to privatize our schools. Because how could I forget, the only way we can fix our school system is to run it as a business.
Unfortunately, in both Sudan and Philadelphia, the real issue remains unsolved: a leadership that does not meet the needs of its citizens, especially those that do not have the money to be heard.
Death in Darfur sells T-shirts. A school can go up for bidding. But until then, we are quiet.
Aya Saed is a rising College senior. Follow her on Twitter @_AyaS. Seeds of Reason appears bi-weekly during the school year.