Project Update, August 27, 2022: Responding to Sexual Violence in Darfur
Gaffar Mohammud Saeneen and Eric Reeves, Co-Chairs
Nancy Reeves, Editor and Funding Advisor; Julie Darcq, Online Campaign Coordinator
[The current update covers the period July 25, 2022 – August 25, 2022]
Our project at Zamzam camp for internally displaced persons in North Darfur—about 15 kilometers southwest of the geographic center of El Fasher, North Darfur state capital—has now begun its third year. And yet despite our many successes—reflecting the extraordinary efforts and compassion of the women who make up Team Zamzam—there is such an ominous context in which to see these successes that this overview perforce begins with the threats to the people of Darfur. Continuing insecurity has prevented a great deal of the agricultural work that is normally done in the rainy season (June – September). Indeed, the intimidation and destruction that brought the last agricultural season to nought is even greater this year.
Coupled with the explosive soaring of Sudan’s inflation rate—particularly for food—there is a vast catastrophe in the making, the most destructive feature of which is acute malnutrition leading to famine—and famine is a word that is increasingly used by Darfuris themselves, including the particularly well-informed coordinating counselor for Team Zamzam. And as my co-chair Gaffar has noted: “Any follower of Sudanese affairs will notice that alarm bells have been ringing widely about a possible famine in the coming two months … There is no doubt that Darfur and its displaced persons will be hard hit. The situation looks bleak with worse to come….”
Malnutrition rates for children under five (U5) are terrifying, for both Global Acute Malnutrition (GAM) and Severe Acute Malnutrition (SAM). (No humanitarian organization is collecting meaningful data, but anecdotal evidence from a wide range of locations is unambiguous.) Only about half of U5s with SAM can survive for long without being in a hospital or supplementary feeding center.
Neither of these exists in sufficient quantity to respond to famine—again, a word that one hears more and more in what concerns Darfuris, particularly in North Darfur, which along with West Darfur has borne the brunt of Arab militia violence over the past two years.
This militia violence is often countenanced, or even augmented by the strongest military force in Darfur, the Rapid Support Forces (RSF).
The paramount commander of the RSF is Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, known more commonly as “Hemeti.” Hemeti is the vice-chair of the Sovereignty Council, a militarily dominated body that since the October 2021 military coup has arrogated to itself all political power in Sudan and solidified its grip on vast amounts of Sudan’s national wealth. And in the political ethos that has prevailed in Sudan for more than thirty years, political power and military power have been dissoluble. And with unchecked political power comes unlimited wealth.
Beyond the gross mismanagement of the economy by the military leaders—leading to one of the world’s very highest inflation rates—the inflation of food prices has been badly exacerbated by global food shortages, much of this attributable to the Russian blockading of Ukrainian crop exports. In her very full and detailed ANNEX to this report, the coordinating counselor for the Zamzam project, places the food crisis front and center, along with the Janjaweed violence that threatens agriculture around Zamzam and the neighboring areas of North Darfur.
Large parts of the population east of Jebel Marra in North Darfur have fled—many to Zamzam, Abushouk, or the city of El Fasher. The threat as perceived by all these people is that the Arab militia forces—unconstrained in any way—plan to seize all the land of Darfur, and in the process dismantle Zamzam and other IDP camps. Such actions would be utterly catastrophic in effect, and yet the international community seems oblivious to the warnings, coming primarily from Radio Dabanga (a recent assemblage of their reporting on North Darfur can be found here) and from the voices included in these reports.
What has been accomplished
Notably, the coordinating counselor begins her report with a brief overview of the violence threatening Zamzam and all of North Darfur, but moves quickly to beautiful paragraphs of gratitude:
Before providing the details of the current report, we of Team Zamzam and the entire camp population, would again like to take this opportunity to extend our utmost gratitude and sincerest appreciation to the supporters, volunteers, and the donors—without whom this project would not have been able to reach such extraordinary milestones in just over two years. No matter how many times the words of appreciation are repeated here, they will never be sufficient to convey the sense of sheer joy and the sense of hope that has been generated by this project.
This project has healed many badly wounded hearts, filling them again with happiness and aspirations. It has rescued several hundred young girls from suicidal tendencies, severe depression, post-traumatic stress syndrome, isolation, and withdrawal to the dim corners of fearful shadows; they have been reintegrated within the same society that has stigmatised many of them. Furthermore, the project has provided food packages for thousands of the most impoverished families struggling to make daily ends meet.
During the ongoing Covid-19 crisis, this project has also provided thousands of sanitizing bars of soaps for families who couldn’t afford to buy one. Team Zamzam has gone door to door to provide Covid-19 prevention advice. The Team has also travelled to many villages neighbouring Zamam to meet families and offer help to victims of sexual violence, and counseling fistula victims on possible surgery.
The list of achievements is long and space does not allow us to list here all the achievements of the past two years. But we would like to reiterate here that nothing could have been achieved without your tremendous support.
The coordinating counselor concludes her report with the specific activities and achievements of the past month:
The daily suffering resulting from scarcity and high prices has become acute, tearing at the social fabric as people are becoming increasingly impatient, indeed desperate. To understand life in Zamzam, one must imagine the daily suffering in the shanties of these camps, one must put oneself in such a position where it is impossible to buy even a small amount of sugar to make breakfast tea for children, who are yawning from the hunger of the past night. The coming period—normally the fall harvest—will certainly see food needs here in Zamzam camp increase dramatically; we will do all we can to help those who are struggling for a daily meal.
- Food distribution:
For this month, as usual, sugar, flour and pasta were bought and distributed to the poorest groups. 284 families benefited from these distributions. Each included 3 pounds of sugar, 1 kilo of flour, and half a kilo of pasta.
(While food costs may seem normal to those spending dollars or euros in Western countries, for poorer Sudanese the prices for various food staples have become stratospheric. Feeding a family of any size, or even an individual, has become almost impossible:
1 kilo of pasta: 700 Sudanese Pounds ($1.20)
1 kilo of flour: 850 Sudanese Pounds ($1.31)
1 kilo of sugar: 700 Sudanese Pounds ($1.20)
1 liter of cooking oil: 1050 Sudanese Pounds ($2.10)
- Hygiene kits:
For this month, hygiene essentials for girls and women are being temporarily suspended; funds are being re-directed to provide as much additional food as possible.
- Fistula surgery:
One young woman from Zamzam camp benefited from surgery, 19-year-old Haloum Abdullahaye Mohamed. Sadly, the waiting list for such surgery only grows. The coordinating counselor reports 153 girls and women on this list. 42 of them are in critical condition; 56 are in semi-critical condition; and 55 are early-stage fistulas.
- Counseling sessions
Sessions with girls continue at the same pace and progress is clearly noticeable. Despite the coming autumn season, which finds most people preoccupied with the economic difficulties and security challenges, new victims are still attending our counseling sessions on an ongoing basis. The counseling sessions programme in Zamzam camp is the only established sanctuary that exists and is known to the victims of sexual violence in North Darfur; it is not surprising that not only girls and women from Zamzam attend, but also girls and women from surrounding areas, even as far away as Abushouk IDP camp, come to attend sessions.
[Abushouk adjoins the northern part of El Fasher; Zamzam lies about 15 kilometers southwest from the center of El Fasher, a city and state capital with a large geographic footprint; see map above—ER]
The success stories of these private sessions with victims of sexual violence lie in the determination, hard work, empathy, dedication, resourcefulness, and the professionalism of team Zamzam’s counselors. They work tirelessly to create images of a better future for the frail victims, many of them on the verge of psychological collapse. Many young girls have been rescued from despair and have regained their strength sufficiently to resume their normal lives. Many more have turned away from their depression, trauma, and self-isolation to become committed volunteers and ardent social activists, giving our collective efforts greater value.
- Number of counseling sessions:
73 individual counseling sessions
29 group counseling sessions
How to Help
Any assistance will be greatly appreciated by Team Zamzam, and by the girls and women whose suffering they seek to alleviate, and who distribute all they can to those within the camp who daily move closer to starvation. I should stress the tremendous efficiencies of purchases by a staff with local knowledge, and the value of their deep understanding of where need is greatest within this vast camp, swollen to roughly 400,000 people with recent displacements caused by insecurity.
While not tax-deductible, a contribution should be made with the knowledge that our project as a whole operates with truly extraordinary efficiency, in ways matched by no humanitarian organization operating in Darfur that I am aware of, a region I have been researching for two decades. There is absolutely no overhead for this project.
Those wishing to assist in funding the work of Team Zamzam may send a check directly to Eric (Eric Reeves, 31 Franklin St., Northampton, MA 01060) or purchase one of his woodturnings: https://www.ericreeves-woodturner.com/gallery
100% of the purchase price of every woodturning directly supports the project in Zamzam.
Previous updates are archived at: https://www.ericreeves-woodturner.com/blog/
A “You Tube” video of Eric describing the project can be found at: https://youtu.be/QsRUa7GoVgY