"Don't let a good idea slip just because you don't get support. Be persistent."
Impelled by his family's history of surviving the Holocaust, Swarthmore College (Pa.) student Mark Hanis, 23, has united students and legislators across the U.S. in his efforts to end genocide in Darfur, Sudan.
What kind of philanthropic or volunteer work did/do you do?
Mark: I am working with other Swarthmore College students to find a comprehensive response to ending the genocide in Darfur, Sudan. We have created the Genocide Intervention Fund (GIF), which aims to increase public awareness about genocide and support government policies, organizations and initiatives designed to help prevent and stop genocide.
What is the name and location of the organization?
Mark: Genocide Intervention Fund, Swarthmore, PA.
Tell us about the project, especially who benefited from this work.
Mark: At this stage, the GIF will focus its fundraising on supporting African Union peacekeepers in Darfur, Sudan, as well as pressuring Congress to pass the Darfur Accountability Act and Darfur Genocide Accountability Act. We launched the GIF on April 6 with five members of Congress and almost 400 students representing 42 states.
What inspired you to get involved?
Mark: As a grandchild of four Holocaust survivors, ending genocide is personal. When I learned about Sudan, I knew that there should be an unconventional response to an unconventional crisis. The support of numerous experts, organizations and individuals furthered our involvement.
How did you first get involved? Give us some details.
Mark: I co-led Genocide Awareness Month Spring 2004 and stayed involved with Darfur over the summer, working with DarfurGenocide.org. With more skills, knowledge, and ideas of my classmate (Andrew Sniderman '06), the GIF snowballed into what it is now.
What is/was the best thing about your experience?
Mark: Knowing that the GIF is empowering citizens to take substantive action to stop a genocide. One woman wrote a letter saying, "Thank you for reviving my hope in humanity."
What is/was the hardest part?
Mark: Funding and access to media. I've had to struggle with a part-time job to pay for rent and food yet spend sleepless nights working on the GIF. While we have received some seed funding, many expenses were paid out-of-pocket.
What was the biggest surprise?
Mark: When Gayle Smith, senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, replied to the GIF proposal, saying she wanted to work with us to realize our idea.
What new things have you learned as a result of your experience and how have you changed as a result?
Mark: How to manage other people (our group grew from 2 to 15); how to present our idea clearly and effectively to various audiences; how Congress operates; how to mobilize people to translate their awareness into action.
What advice would you give to someone who is thinking of getting involved in philanthropy or volunteering?
Mark: Don't let a good idea slip through the cracks just because you don't get support. Be persistent - always follow up an email with a phone call or personal visit.
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