Feeding the Millions

Author Koren to share
Biafran Airlift story at Village Lights

Koren’s multimedia presentation
is set for Aug. 25 in Madison

By Tess Worrell
Contributing Writer

(August 2012) – “Millions Starving” blare the headlines. Numbed by the extent and depth of human suffering, most readers find it easier to move to the next story than to engage. David Koren chose to engage.
In 1968 more than 1 million people were starving in Biafra – a small territory in the African country of Nigeria. In the years following Nigeria’s independence from the United Kingdom, leaders from various tribes and ethnicities vied for control of the country and its oil reserves. Nigeria descended into civil war. Caught in the fighting were the inhabitants of Biafra. After a failed attempt by territorial leaders from across Nigeria to form a confederation, leaders in Biafra opted to secede from Nigeria and establish their own country. Tens of thousands of Nigerian soldiers surrounded Biafra, ordered all relief agencies out of the area, and blockaded all supplies from entering.

David Koren

David Koren

The blockade created massive genocide. Nightly newscasts depicted the horror and tragedy of one of the greatest humanitarian crises of all time. The Red Cross opted to defy the blockade and air lift food to Biafra. David Koren was there.
On Saturday, Aug. 25, from 1-3 p.m. the Human Relations Committee of Madison and Village Lights Bookstore join forces to bring David Koren to Madison. Koren will offer a multi-media presentation depicting the struggle to deliver food behind enemy lines to the starving people of Biafra. He will discuss his new book, “Far Away in the Sky.” The book’s title comes from the Biafran phrase used by children to describe where they were going when relief planes airlifted them out of Biafra to hospitals in Sao Tome. The book offers Koren’s first-hand account of the heroic effort to save lives. Attendees will hear the stories “of those who were helped, those who served, and those who died.”
Before entering journalism school, Koren served as a Peace Corp teacher in a village in Nigeria very near where the airlift would take place. On hearing the call for volunteers to assist in the airlift, Koren knew the people needing that food were his former colleagues and students. Koren returned to Biafra, working to unload planes and deliver food. Prior to heading to Biafra, Koren contacted various news agencies offering his services as an on-site journalist as well as volunteer.
CBS provided equipment to record the daily events of the airlift. Those attending the program at Village Lights will hear excerpts from the tapes allowing audience members to “be there” for the conversations, sounds, and detailed descriptions of the events as they unfolded. Because the tapes spent decades at the back of a closet, capturing the sounds from the deteriorating tapes constituted an “archaeological dig on my own life,” says Koren. Fortunately for history, Koren was able to transcribe the tapes which became the basis for his book and offer the detail and authenticity that bring the story to life.
Koren’s presentation will include both power point and internet images to illustrate the story and clarify details. He explores the conflicts between the various sides and the conflicting natures of the participants themselves – such as certain relief workers who worked tirelessly to feed the Biafrans while still describing them in racist terms. He hopes the discussion of this particular crisis will lend insights into the intricacies of current human rights crises and the interventions which might work to resolve them.
Nathan Montoya, owner of Village Lights, implores residents to come and hear Koren’s story. He compares the Biafran crisis to those reported daily. “We forget or don’t care or don’t pay attention,” says Montoya. He hopes that, in listening to Koren, people come to care. “David has left a huge legacy. Most of us can only dream of doing that much good for our fellow humans. If one person is moved to volunteer or contribute to relief efforts, this is worth it.”

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