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Darfur isn't just on the other side of the world from the United States.

It's a whole world away.

Proof of that can be found in the 87 two-sided panels children from the two countries colored. The canvas panels were sewn into a tent by Reliable Tent & Tipi in Billings as part of a national one-year community-based campaign to bring attention to genocide in the African nation.

Many church and community groups from throughout the United States are involved in the effort.

The Tents of Hope project will culminate Nov. 7-9 when people from 48 states will bring more than 300 tents to the National Mall in Washington, D.C. In Montana, Reliable Tent & Tipi will bring a tent, as will Absarokee resident Nancy Staigmiller who also has taken part in the campaign.

As work on the tent put together by the Billings business finished up last week, a look at the panels showed how differently children in two countries see the world. Children from a Petaluma, Calif., elementary school painted hearts, a rainbow in the clouds and a globe with the word "peace" just above it.

The Darfuri children painted people with guns shooting other people, guns mounted on vehicles and buildings being set on fire. The pictures are worth many more than a thousand words.

Dave Nemer, president of Reliable Tent & Tipi, said he didn't know much about the devastation in Darfur until he got involved with the people who organized Tents of Hope.

"I was not anywhere near as aware of it as I am now, and that's why I think the project is important," he said. "Because there are a lot of people who should know about it and don't."

The statistics are chilling.

According to Tents of Hope, at least 400,000 civilians have died from violence in Darfur. Tens of thousands of women and girls have been raped. And more than 2.3 million Darfuris now live in 150 deteriorating, poorly supplied camps throughout the region.

The government of Sudan has paid and equipped a proxy militia known as the Janjaweed to force local inhabitants from their traditional lands, the nonprofit group said.

The idea behind Tents of Hope is to raise awareness, as well as to encourage people to donate material support for the refugees uprooted from their homes in all of the violence. Many of the decorated tents that will be set up on the National Mall will then be sent to Darfur for use as children's classrooms.

Reliable Tent & Tipi got involved 18 months ago when it was contacted by an organization called Camp Darfur. It was asked to build 15 tents for a project the group was doing in Los Angeles, where organizers set up a miniature refugee camp to publicize the plight of Darfur.

Out of that came the idea for Tents of Hope. The Billings business has sold about 350 tents at a discount to people involved in the project.

It also will donate 14 percent of all sales to the Tents of Hope campaign. Earlier this week, tents were still being mailed to people who had ordered them last minute for the project, Nemer said.

He plans to travel to Washington, D.C., this weekend for the three-day event.

"We've been certainly excited and proud to participate in something we don't normally get to do," he said. "It takes our love of tents into a whole other charitable way."

It has also been a labor of love for Staigmiller who got involved with the project through her denomination, the United Church of Christ. Staigmiller is a member of the UCC's national Wider Church Ministries Board.

She learned about the project last November when the board met. In May, she bought an 8-by-10-foot canvas tent from Reliable Tent & Tipi.

Staigmiller is very involved in the UCC's camping ministry in Montana. She brought the tent to eight sessions at Camp Mimanagish, 40 miles south of Big Timber, where youngsters helped decorate the canvas tent.

She also took the tent to 10 churches to spread the message of Darfur as far and wide as she could.

The Montana side of the tent includes mountains, the Boulder River and lots of colorful handprints painted by the kids. The Darfur side contains a giraffe, a school, a woman with her baby, as well as an African woman getting water from a well.

"It was their visualization of what it might be like in Sudan," Staigmiller said.

She and her family will take the tent to Washington for the event. Staigmiller will also bring more than $1,000 donated by Montanans to help the people of Darfur.

Staigmiller tells about some words that are painted on the tent. A boy at one of the summer camps found a saying in a book, using the word "imani," which means "hope" in Swahili: "Keep imani in your heart, keep imani in your soul, imani is more precious than silver or gold."

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