Darlynton Adegor, a second-year student at the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service, is using a combination of existing legal knowledge with the Clinton School’s curriculum for community engagement to have a real impact on a major international crisis.
A graduate of Lagos State University and the Nigerian Law School, Adegor has been working with the Washington D.C.-based Syrian Emergency Task Force since June 2017.
Last summer, seeking opportunities to fulfill his International Public Service Project in Arkansas, Adegor received an email about SETF, who has an office in Little Rock, and was “taken aback” by the scope of its initiatives. Adegor first met with Natalie Larrison, SETF’s director of outreach, to discuss the SETF’s mission, vision, and ongoing programs.
“Darlynton really impressed me because he had such a closeness to this type of conflict and could really relate to what the Syrian people are going through,” Larrison said. “He believed in the type of work we were doing and the more he learned, the more it stirred up in him. His passion for the work was apparent immediately.”
SETF supports the demands of the Syrian people for freedom and democracy. Founded in April 2011, it advocates in solidarity with the Syrian people to inform and educate the American public and its representatives about their suffering.
Since the onset of the Arab Spring protests in 2011, tensions between Syrian protestors and President Bashar Assad have risen to create one of the world’s great humanitarian crises. The nation’s civil war has left more than 500,000 dead and sparked a major refugee crisis, with more than five million Syrians fleeing to neighboring countries and more than six million internally displaced. Syria’s citizens are the most displaced in the world.
Adegor saw SETF as an opportunity to work with an organization “truly dedicated to global development.”
As his first duty with SETF, Adegor was tasked with creating a community engagement program and strategy. The goal was to build a framework that would raise awareness of the Syrian crisis in a way that would resonate with Americans.
“My day-to-day work was going to community engagement programs,” Adegor said. “To do observations, to do interviews with people who are connected to organizations, and ask them what they felt would be the best approach for the SETF to reach out to the American people.”
Adegor attended fundraisers and events while joining other SETF members for marketing strategy meetings. He sent out updates through SETF’s social media channels. Additionally, Adegor offered ideas on how to improve communication within SETF’s existing network.
“One thing Darlynton said, and I repeat this all the time: ‘You have to have regular Thanksgivings,’” Larrison said. “He said that to get something done in Nigeria, they would get everyone together. It’s not just cell phone messaging – everyone needs to see each other.”
Larrison said the advice was taken to heart. Ensuring SETF volunteers are included in regular meetings and regular collaboration with the working group in Conway – SETF’s base in terms of humanitarian work in Syria – are just a couple ways SETF works to stay close with its supporters.
Additionally, Adegor’s law background was put to use. One of the SETF’s organizational goals is to gather legal evidence to pursue prosecution of the Assad regime. Complicating this mission is the fact that Syria is not a signatory to the International Criminal Court, meaning the ICC has no independent authority to investigate or prosecute crimes that take place within Syrian territory.
Germany, however, is one of the few countries in the world to employ universal jurisdiction. A German federal public prosecutor opened investigations of international crimes in Syria soon after the outbreak of the conflict.
In one of these investigations, prosecutors are currently analyzing 28,000 photos of people tortured in Syrian prisons. The photos – featured in the documentary “Syria’s Disappeared: The Case Against Assad” – were smuggled out of Syria by the former Syrian military photographer “Caesar” and are now at the disposal of prosecutors in Europe.
Adegor drafted the memorandum of understanding between the German prosecutor, who was given the mandate to prosecute the war criminals in Syria, and the individuals responsible with bringing the evidence to court. Specifically, the MOU was drafted to keep the photos of tortured Syrians out of the public domain.
“That’s what the MOU was all about – use it, but don’t post it on Facebook, don’t send it to any media streams,” Adegor said. “Just use it for court purposes.”
At the conclusion of his IPSP, SETF asked Adegor about staying onboard to help with the implementation of the outreach strategy he compiled through research.
“Basically, after I drafted the MOU and the community engagement framework, the board was impressed with what I had done,” Adegor said. “Then, they needed someone to help them implement the strategy.”
Though unable to stay with SETF in a full-time capacity, he stayed involved. His framework from the interviews, focus groups, and observations laid out a broad aspect of methods for SETF to help American people understand what is happening in Syria and how they can support the mission of SETF.
“His research helped prove things we felt like we already knew,” Larrison said. “For instance, one of his main points was simply that people do not have good information about Syria and its people. We knew that, but it solidified the fact that if we are going to do anything for Syria, we need to make sure people have the right information.”
SETF has since become even more ingrained in education, paying visits to local schools and universities, including LISA Academy, Lakeside High School, UA Little Rock, and the University of Central Arkansas. Its visit to the Clinton School in early October included a screening of “Syria’s Disappeared” and appearances by SETF Executive Director Mouaz Moustafa and Mazen Alhummada, a survivor of detention in Syria.
“What the Clinton School teaches is that it has to be from the bottom-up,” Adegor said. “And that’s basically what the community has told us about Syria.”
Adegor is currently completing his Capstone, the Clinton School’s final field service project. Working with Winrock International, he is developing an evaluation toolkit that measures peer-to-peer relationships in the organization’s community-based food systems project.