ANNEX: Project Update, May 22, 2022: Responding to Sexual Violence in Darfur
From the coordinating counsellor of Team Zamzam:
This bimonthly report highlights the bleak realities on the ground, including the acute shortages of drinking water, the dramatic rise of sexual violence; it also highlights the pleas of the residents of Zamzam camp and the challenges for Team Zamzam the foreseeable future.
Before getting into the report, on behalf of Team Zamzam, my colleagues, and our growing cohort of volunteers, I wish to pay special tributes to our donors, our supporters, and sympathisers for their generous contributions in supporting this project. Without their contributions and support, we couldn’t have moved so far and certainly far less would have been achieved.
Their contribution and support have not only helped to alleviate the suffering of thousands of victims of sexual violence, but it also directly contributed to the breaking of traditional social barriers and its taboos, and is still contributing to a raising of awareness among the male population. Because of the goals of this project, now for the first time we have more than five young male volunteers working side by side with the girls in perfect harmony and understanding.
We see this as a milestone achievement, one that we should all be very proud of and celebrate. Because of this project, here in Zamzam men’s attitudes and behavior toward women are gradually changing positively, eves as in other parts of Darfur they have remained almost the same. Our own achievements have come in the face of stiff resistance, awareness is growing. We are joined in our efforts by women’s committees that were established with the help of team Zamzam’s counsellors.
In the meantime, those few male youths who are volunteering alongside their female peers love the idea of getting involved and engaging in revolutionising the backward society which is still held hostage by traditional narratives and dogmatic beliefs. One of the volunteering men said that he regretted not getting involved as early as possible, while the another said: “What we need in this country is not to fight against each other over material things but to fight for the right of our mothers and sisters to have their voices heard equally.”
Although these positive signs are immensely encouraging for us, the overall mentality still remains largely misogynistic; in order to change such attitudes and negative perceptions we ought to reach out with our ideas to every corner…starting from here. To conclude, one must say that the history of changing societies for the better depends upon good ideas; we have found ourselves on a long road to reach our ideals, but we will not give up or compromise so long as we have our supporters.
As noted in last month’s report, the shortage of drinking water has created a crisis in the camps, particularly Zamzam camp. The water crisis has been grown over the past year and has intensified over the past two months in particular. The crisis is the result of multiple causes, accumulating over years. The first and primary cause lies in the lack of interest and neglect by the government: it is abdicating its responsibilities, especially in giving priority to the critical issue of adequate drinking water—the most essential requirement for life.
For many months before the arrival of summer, the residents of Zamzam camp have been calling, appealing, and demanding of the regional government that it provide the most basic resources for repair of at least some of the water pumps that have been broken for years. But our appeals have been ignored and the situation has only worsened. Currently, only 16 if 270 water pumps are working properly. This has caused severed hardships, as many families spend hours of their days in long queues for just a gallon of water for cooking.
This crisis can be resolved only if there is moral sense and good will on the part of state officials and the representatives. But the efforts of the government are focused on trivial issues that don’t serve the interests of the people. Therefore, in homes within these forgotten camps, people feel a deep sense of despair and frustration at the government. When we asked a woman about the state’s role in this crisis, she laughed and replied to us: “We here have long lost hope in the so-called government, and don’t expect anything positive from them.”
Repair of water pump provides huge relief and immense joy for thousands of families in Section D section of Zamzam camp
After several field visits in neighbourhoods, inspections of variously located water pumps, and a comprehensive survey of people’s opinions about the current water crisis, we have decided to repair one of the broken pumps located in Section D. After an extensive effort to engage the local population in teamwork, alongside local social activists and volunteers, we managed to find a local engineer with great experience in repairing pumps, and he agreed to repair the pump at a reasonable price.
The engineer with his team of five assistants began their work first by dismantling the entire pump, then afterwards removing all the broken iron pressure pipes and pieces; this was followed by a thorough cleaning and replacement of broken parts with new ones. Finally, after days of work, the pump was fully repaired and the neighbouring women ululated to express their relief and happiness. This good news about the pump instantly brought hundreds of families to the scene, especially women with their children carrying water gallons. Some of the women brought hot beverages (tea and coffee) as gestures of thanks to Team Zamzam.
This good news has not only brought an immense happiness to many inhabitants of Section D in Zamzam, and also alleviated the prolonged suffering of thousands of women who walked every day, in the hottest temperatures, for a gallon water. And the joy of the day was evident from several testimonies taken during the opening ceremony from several women who flocked to the scene with their children, celebrating the final repair of their beloved water pump, which had been out of service since 2019.
Emotionally moving testimonials about the repaired water pump from the women of Section D
Khadija Abkar, a 43-year-old woman, said: “This is a historic day for us in the neighbourhood and for our children, who have been suffering every day from the water crisis for years.” Khadija continued: “You people have brought us joy and some of us nearly shed tears from the intensity of such joys; but I can tell you that the words of thanks and appreciation alone are not enough for what you have done here, and we wish that God will compensate you in the balance of your life of good deeds.”
Husnia Suleiman Ghani, 58-years-old and blind, said: “My daughters referred me to the Team Zamzam counsellors, and I came here to praise and salute your amazing humanitarian efforts.” She continued: “Water has been a big problem here for many years, as you know…I don’t see because I’m blind, but I feel the suffering of people every day and I also heard so much about what you have been doing for this camp. May God bless you and your families for bringing us lively hopes.”
Adam Al Dhai, 29 years old, local activist, local school teacher, vice president of neighbourhood committee ofSection D, and volunteer said: “In the beginning, on behalf of the residents of this Section D and its thirteenth neighbourhood, I extend my thanks and appreciation to Team Zamzam for their remarkable efforts in doing what you have over the past two years, from providing basic necessities to vulnerable people and now repairing our water pump.”
Adam continued: “But I would also like to extend my appreciation by paying a special tribute to the defenders of our people in faraway countries. He concluded saying: ‘Thank you Professor Eric Reeves and your fellow team members for your tireless efforts. and thank you for remaining true to the people of Zamzam.’”
Dramatic increase in sexual violence in recent months
With the increasing frequency of violence against civilians in most parts of Darfur over the past two years, sexual violence has been a central part of these events. On May 9 five young girls from Zamzam camp were gang-raped on the outskirts of Zamzam camp. This has shocked the inhabitants of Zamzam once again. The girls were raped just three kilometres to the southeast of the camp by an armed militia gang. The five girls went out together from Zamzam to fetch firewood, but on their way back they were attacked by six armed men whose faces were completely masked.
The five girls were threatened at gunpoint with weapons, and while the criminals were beginning to commit heinous sexual acts, one of the girls managed escape to the camp to report what had occurred. After reporting, a group of the five girls’ families with other people immediately rushed to the scene hoping to rescue the girls—but it was too late. The four victims were found at crime scene, bleeding, shaking, shivering from terror—crying from humiliation.
Their families were aghast and immediately transported them to El Fasher for medical treatment. From the scene of incident, the perpetrators’ footprints were traced to the nearby village of Haila Arab Al Bashir. The Sheik of the village came out to promise the victim’s families that the accused perpetrators would be handed over to the authorities within 24 hours. The local police of the area were also informed immediately and urged to take this incident seriously. Unfortunately, as usual, very little has been done so far.
Hospital visits to provide psychological counselling to the victims
After receiving this shocking news of the attack from close relatives of the victims, the counsellors called for an emergency meeting in Zamzam to take actions to provide necessary counselling. Immediately following the meeting, four counsellors were put in charge of visiting the victims at their respective places, whether they were still in hospitals or at home. The counsellors provided the victims counselling, moral support, and provided assurances of follow-up and help for them for as long as necessary.
So far, the counsellors have been able to reach three victims in three different places between their homes and the hospital; but they aren’t able to reach the fourth victim because of the stubbornness of the victim’s father.
According to the initial testimonies from the victims, four of them had their hands tied behind their backs, and then all of them were tied to each other by a single rope before the heinous acts by the men took place by turns. The victims’ physical well-being and condition is slightly improving for the better, but their psychological condition might take many months to stabilize, as they are still trembling from the terror that was inflicted upon them during the attack. The counsellors of Team Zamzam will be on their side throughout this period and will do everything in the team’s capacity to help them get back on their feet.
No Farming for this year of 2022
In normal circumstances at this time of the year, people in the peripheral regions of Sudan—and Darfur in particular—are in a very festive mood and busy with preparations to welcome the rainy season. Women sing traditional songs while men gather around to entertain kids with ancient folklore stories. But regretfully in recent years—and especially this year—that festive mood has turned to anxiety and worry because of widespread bloodshed.
For the people of Darfur, particularly residents of the displaced camps who depend for most of their livelihoods on agriculture, the rainy season is an exceptionally important time. It has a special place in our collective hearts and has deep links with our love of nature, its goodness, and its fruits. It is the only beacon of hope that keeps alive our optimism and our aspirations for a better future. This exceptional time of the year, up to the autumn and its rains, is the only period that provides us with a natural climate to breathe, away from the pressures of daily life and the misery of the IDP camps and its humiliations.
Tragically, the turbulent security conditions in Sudan, and in Darfur in particular, have created a new period of unpredictability and chaos: insecurity, corruption, unfettered killings, the burning of villages, looting—along with official corruption and complicity—are everywhere. The spread of heavy weapons in the hands of Arab militias has produced a terrifying reality and many people have found it impossible to think of risking their lives in order to farm.
The bleak and frightening security conditions in Sudan, posing unacceptable risks, have forced the camp residents, in particular the people of Zamzam, to think about how to defend their camps from any possible attack. Hence, beginning in February 2022, several committees of popular defence groups have been established in various neighbourhoods of Zamzam camp to guard the entire camp, day and night, from all unauthorized entrance; they operate with very few resources, provided in the main either by local donations or by others from the diaspora.
Insecurity in Darfur has become simply intolerable, and hopes for this agricultural season have vanished. As a consequence, we know the coming period will be a very difficult one for the vast majority of the residents in the IDP camps, but they have nowhere to run to. They are caught between intolerable insecurity and the urgent need to obtain food for themselves, their families, and their neighhbors.
Further Achievements of Team Zamzam in May 2022 (through May 15)
Testimonial from a fistula patient following reparative surgery:
Rania Bahr El-Din Idris, 26 years old, lives in Zamzam: “I’m so happy that I can’t even describe how I feel inside myself. Because for the first time in the last two years I managed to get myself together. Before my treatment, I could hardly tell the difference between days, weeks, and months. It was an extraordinarily painful period and the intensity of pain had taken control of me, depriving me of many things that I used to enjoy doing.
“Before my illness, I used to enjoy cooking a lot, going out with friends to fetch things from the market, and making handmade men’s hats to earn a little income. But the fistula stopped me from doing this for years. It was very painful, you know…it’s one of those of pains that one wouldn’t even think of wishing on one’s worst enemy. But thank God it has gone. I now sleep well, eat well, and think positively about myself and my future.
“Since I recovered, I have returned to my old work of making handmade hats; but nowadays the market doesn’t pay as well as it used to, so I’m thinking of finding something else. I thank everyone who stood with me during these difficult days. I thank everyone who contributed to my treatment costs—and my biggest thanks to the sisters of team Zamzam for saving my life.”
A memorable and happy Eid for many impoverished families
Eid in Sudan, especially Eid Ramadan, has a very tasty flavour for children. It’s an occasion on which children go around visiting entire neighbourhoods, house by house, to get treated with sweets and homemade cookies. Sudan is one of the few countries that pays great attention to Eid and celebrates the feast for three consecutive days; so when Eid approaches, people’s desire for goods such as flour and sugar rises greatly.
Knowing this, Team Zamzam purchased flour and sugar to be distributed to the very poorest families. A total of 18 50-kg sacks of flour and 13 50-kg sacks of sugar were purchased and distributed as follows:
83 families in Zamzam section A
71 families in Zamzam section B
84 families in Zamzam section C
67 families in Zamzam section D
The total number of families assisted was 305
Provision of Hygiene Kits
12 hygiene kits were distributed to girls; each package contains: 2 tubes of toothpaste, 2 dozen shaving razors; 2 tubes of shaving cream;1 tube of body cream; 2 toothbrushes; and1 package containing a dozen cotton pads distributed per girl.
82 bars of hand washing soap were provided to 41 families
Other work carried out, May 1 – 15, 2022
• A total of 14 accompanying visits to various hospitals;
• A total of 38 adult patients and 6 children who were complaining of various illnesses were accompanied to different hospitals in El Fasher for treatment;
• A total of 13 pregnant women were accompanied to obstetrics and gynaecology wards in El Fasher for medical consultation;
• A total of 16 visits were carried out in 9 neighbourhoods to inspect sanitary conditions, water shortages, and other issues concerning the welfare of camp inhabitants;
• 1 fistula patient was accompanied to the hospital for treatment;
• A total of 3 meetings were held with the representatives of Section D—inhabitants and committees—to brief them on the progress in repairing the water pump and how to use the pump in equitable fashion.
A total 22 group counselling session
A total 37 individual counselling sessions