Project Update, October 25, 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 report of Team Zamzam’s coordinating counselor for October 2022 is made particularly poignant by the extended narratives of two women who have overcome almost unimaginable suffering, losses, and ongoing obstacles to survival. That they have persevered, and in some sense thrived, reveals an extraordinary courage, resilience, and almost superhuman determination. Both the women have families who depend on them; both are widowed; neither has the benefit of an education—but both embody what the coordinating counselor sees as the spirit of Darfuri women. These are the women who provide Darfur at this precarious moment in Sudan’s history with reason for optimism. The narratives are the primary focus of the ANNEX to this update (Annex translation by Gaffar).
The report as a whole gives a terribly grim account of realities on the ground in Darfur, and in particular for Zamzam camp for internally displaced persons (IDPs) near El Fasher in North Darfur. The recent devastating floods reported elsewhere in Sudan were no less destructive in Darfur, and IDP camps are particularly vulnerable. Photographs of the destruction and the remaining risks may be found in the ANNEX for this month as well as in the September update.
The word “famine” continues to be used with increased frequency as food security has declined rapidly. Already at “Phase 4” (Crisis), food availability in Darfur shows signs of even further decline, given what the coordinating counselor reports about the current agricultural season, particularly the absence of farming because of Arab militia violence. The report of the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification for Sudan from last May was highly alarming indeed, but has been overtaken by events; there is now clear evidence of starvation and such severe malnutrition as to contribute to significant mortality
Team Zamzam at work
Team Zamzam, as it has for many months now, has provided food supplies to the most desperately needy families in Zamzam IDP camp—this in addition to their extraordinary labors as psychosocial counselors and nurses for women who are fortunate enough to receive reparative fistula surgery in an El Fasher clinic. Their labors extend even further, as the coordinating counselor reports:
Work was carried out by Team Zamzam during the month of October 2022
• Several routine visits in various areas of the camp to inspect the conditions of the newly displaced people, and to hear the opinions of the sheikhs of the civil administrations and the neighborhood committees on daily challenges.
• Re-visit the areas and neighborhoods that were hit by torrential rains and floods to check the condition of the people who are suffering under their torn tents.
• Participation in several meetings with different committees of women to take notes on their priorities and present concerns.
• Accompanied more than 83 patients—suffering from various diseases, including fever, diarrhea, and malnutrition—to hospitals to facilitate medical procedures and treatments.
Distribution of basic necessities
With the continued rise in prices, food has become an increasingly urgent need; the vast majority of IDPs are suffering from severe food shortages, day after day, as has been the case for the past two years. The very poor living conditions are deteriorating rapidly in the camp; malnutrition among the most impoverished families is severe.
Today, obtaining just one meal a day has become the biggest challenge for ninety percent of the Zamzam residents, while the situation in other IDP camps in North Darfur is no better. The portions of aid which people receive from the UN’s World Food Program is almost negligible. The sense of despair and the feeling of being forgotten is palpable within the camp’s populations.
Our monthly budget doesn’t permit us to reach all those desperate people, but each month we try our best to help several families with the most basic necessities. This month, 2 pounds of sugar, 1 kilo of flour, and half a kilo of pasta have been distributed to those who are desperately hungry and languishing under torn tents. How can the people of Zamzam and other camps in Darfur survive in the current deteriorating situation until the end of this year is the question that is on everyone’s mind. But the bitter truth is that nothing short of famine is in the offing.
- 162 families benefited from distribution
- Feminine Hygiene kits:
Total beneficiaries: 12 persons
• Counseling program:
• Individual counseling: 81 sessions
• Group counseling:35 sessions
- Testimonial of fistula surgery patient:
We, the Team Zamzam counselors, received a letter of thanks from Narfa Abakar:
“My dearest, affectionate, and hardworking sisters of Team Zamzam. I don’t even know how to write even my name, but today I am sending you this recorded message to express my gratitude and thanks to you for what you have done to help my daughter (Maqboola), who has been suffering from depression for such a long time because of the undignified violations of her body [sexual assaults] that she suffered at the hands of those barbaric militias.
“Before she was brought to your attention by her best friend, I did everything that I could to get her out of her severe depression but failed to understand what she was suffering from. But miraculously, you have managed to bring her back to life, and she is as happy as she used to be. Today, here in Darfur, many girls like her are suffering in silence and sadly most of the mothers are still struggling to understand what is happening to their daughters.
“I didn’t realise that my poor daughter was suffering from fistula, and all this time she felt too ashamed to tell me. I now know that the illness that nearly destroyed her life was initially caused by forced penetration which suffered at the hands of those barbaric people.
“Many young girls are finding it difficult to talk about what happened to them because of stigma and this is what is allowing those barbaric people to continue their heinous acts. In fact, we mothers need extensive education in these camps, especially about fistula, as well as the psychological effects of sexual violence on victims.
“This is especially important because in these IDP camps many young girls are suffering from the same illness. Even some older women are suffering from the same issues, but unlike the young girls they have often managed to cope with the stress. What you have done is a wonderful effort, beautiful, and noble humanitarian work, and words of thanks alone are not enough but I will be endlessly grateful. Thank you forever.”
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.
It is now possible to make a tax-deductible contribution to our project, using a portal on the website of a 501/c/3 organization operating in Sudan. Operation Broken Silence, working primarily on health and education issues in the Nuba Mountains of South Kordofan, has created a special site for a tax-deductible contributions to our project, and we hope this makes contributing to the health and well-being of girls and women in Zamzam more attractive.
We also hope that all will keep in mind 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 compendium of testimonials from girls and women who have been helped by the counselors of Team Zamzam may be foundhere.
A “You Tube” video of Eric describing the project can be found at: https://youtu.be/QsRUa7GoVgY
Fellow, Rift Valley Institute
Trustee, Darfur Bar Association
Responding to victims of sexual violence in Darfur