Get Up, Stand Up: Whistleblowers for Peace

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By Morgan Gibson > Junior > Journalism > University of Maryland

 College students are constantly met with a barrage of noise: alarm clocks, text alerts, blaring iPods and the drone of tiring professors. A small group of young activists in Los Angeles, however, only care about one noise being heard: the blow of a whistle.

 

 

They wear whistles around their necks as a protest for peace in the Congo. Why whistles? To remember the boys standing on the front lines of battle, too small to carry guns, armed only with whistles for protection.

It Started with a Journal
When Sean Carasso, 28, ventured to Africa for a TOMS shoes drop in late 2007, he experienced what he calls a “desire to get lost in the Congo.” At an illegal military camp, Carasso learned about the whistle blowers; these are young boys who stand at the front lines of war, and it’s their sole purpose to make enough noise with their whistles to scare the enemy and then to get hit with the first round of bullets. These boys are nothing more than a “temporary barricade.”
 
Carasso went back to his camp that night and, through tears, wrote a blog. He sent the blog to friends and family, and they forwarded it around the world. When he returned from his heartbreaking journey, his friend bought him a whistle as a gift, to remind him to keep the boys in the front of his mind. Carasso found that by wearing the whistle, he was prompted by others to tell its story. Thus began the Falling Whistles campaign.
 
Carasso and his friends started with $5 and bought a couple of “crappy” whistles. This turned into a hitchhiking road trip across the country, passing out whistles and raising awareness. Designer Steven Alan approached Carasso and his team and suggested they sell the whistles in stores. He was the first person with influence and clout to help, Carasso said.
 
“It was just young people using this whistle as a tool,” Carasso said. “We never thought about retail and making noise.” Now, the whistles are selling for $34-$104 and they’ve been featured in places like Teen Vogue. The whistles are worn by celebrities, too, like Beyonce Knowles and Jessica Biel.
 
The Heartbeat of FW
Despite the campaign’s increasing popularity, the core of the FW team is still a bunch of young people trying to make a difference in the world. “Interns are the heartbeat of Falling Whistles, they are what pushes us forward, they run the company,” Carasso said. “I think young people are capable of far, far more than we give them credit for.”
 
One of FW’s most recently appointed interns has a deeply invested interest in the conflict in the Congo. Stella Safari, a sophomore at Dartmouth University, was born in Bukavu, a city in eastern Congo. She joined the FW campaign in late June after a celebration event in Washington, D.C. for Congo’s 50th anniversary of its independence.
 
As an intern at FW’s D.C. office, Safari talks to people in the Congo who are doing grass roots work every day. Because she speaks both Swahili and French, she can reach out to several affected groups. “It’s important for them to know that we’re here and we didn’t forget about them,” she said.
 
Safari moved to the U.S. not just because of the war, but also to get a good education, she said. Her father died when she was seven, and she hasn’t seen her mother since she moved here 10 years ago. She hopes to return home eventually. “I feel like there’s a greater need for what I can offer in the Congo than here,” she said. “I’m definitely willing to go despite all the problems.”
 
Reaching Out to Students

 

This fall, the whistleblowers will be traveling around the country to major cities and universities, from NYU and Columbia to the University of Portland, to spread the campaign for peace.

 

Carasso, who attended the University of Texas, said the first thing college students can do to help is buy a big, bold whistle. “By wearing it you’re asked about it all the time, you’re forced to become more articulate about the topic,” he said.
 
He also said to throw a “Speak-Easy;” just get a bunch of people together and talk about the falling whistle story. “Never underestimate the power of conversation,” Carasso said. “If college students are talking about it, it’s going to cause social change.”
 
Images courtesy of College Magazine and redbookmag.com.

 

College Magazine Staff

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