After 22 years of civil war, the African nation of Sudan has lived in virtual peace since 2005. However, the country is still divided between its North and South. But if a January referendum goes as planned, war could start all over again.
Inside the Joyce Center Field House, 8,000 miles away, the conflict hit close to home as hundreds of Notre Dame students gathered with big dreams and high hopes.
The first part of the event was called, “Stand with Sudan,” and featured lectures from University leaders like men’s head basketball coach Mike Brey and Notre Dame president emeritus Rev. Ted Hesburgh C.S.C.
"I walked in and saw all the students and said, ‘My golly, this is an awesome turnout,’” Rev. Hesburgh remarked.
The second portion of Saturday’s event was titled, “Playing for Peace,” and included 104 three-on-three basketball teams.
"It really has been a lot of work,” student organizer Patrick McCormick said as he recalled all the hours of planning. "But it’s worth it if we call international attention towards Sudan and try to stop a war before it starts,” McCormick added.
"When you see a 20-year-old saying, ‘Wait a minute, there's something we can do to help the people of Sudan,' it's unbelievable,” Sudan native Ed Bona said after calling on students to spread awareness.
But in a world half away, it's only believable.
"I believe genocide is brewing north of this town,” a Sudanese man told NBC News.
That town is Abeyei which sits along Sudan’s Muslim north and its black Christian south. Here Sudanese military troops are tensely mobilizing with the oil-rich south expected to withdraw from northern Sudan during the Jan. 9, referendum.
"The situation of north and south is a ticking time bomb of enormous consequence,” U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said during a recent press conference.
"Life is cheap in Sudan. People die all of the time and they don't even get fazed by it anymore. Yeah it's sad; you don't want to see that,” Bona added.
"There couldn't be a cause more worth fighting for,” McCormick concluded.
Notre Dame hopes the spirit of Saturday’s peace rally will travel from campus all the way to the White House in Washington D.C. So the university has placed an online petition on its web site looking to muster 5,000 signatures. If you'd like to add your name to the list, just click on the Big Red Bar.