Project Update, February 26, 2023: 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
Every month I am overwhelmed yet again by the suffering and need reported by the coordinating counsleor of Zamzam camp for “internally displaced persons” (IDPs). These reports—assiduous, based on first-hand knowledge, and highly revealing of camp conditions—come to me by way of a translation from the Arabic original by my co-chair of this Project, Gaffar Mohammud Saeneen. After two and half years of such reports, we have created an archive that offers a powerful, comprehensive, and deeply distressing view of one the very largest of Darfur’s many IDP camps. It offers a prism through which we may see how much violence and suffering continues in Darfur as a whole, and preeminently the consequences of unrelenting, brutal sexual violence against non-Arab girls and women.
This archive already has a historic dimension and I would highlight the 28 monthly updates (including an annual report for 2022)—particularly the full, often lengthy reports of the coordinating counselor for Team Zamzam—and the testimonials of those girls and women who have been most destructively raped or abused, and all too often in need of fistula surgeries. Team Zamzam has now overseen almost 60 of these surgical repairs that often leave women feeling as though they have reclaimed lives they had given up on.
Our monthly budget of $6,000 funds the services provided by 19 full-time and deeply experienced Darfuri women counselors; a security and transportation assistant; fistula surgeries; and as much food, medicine, soap, and sanitary provisions as can be afforded with what remains. Food is provided to those assessed as most needy by the Team Zamzam counselors: the disabled, the very elderly or blind, women with orphans, and new arrivals in the camp who have typically over the past two years arrived at Zamzam carrying almost nothing with them.
There is no overhead for this project…absolutely none. Only the members of Team Zamzam receive salaries, and supplies are purchased by these women in the most economical way possible. 100% of all contributions, and 100% of the purchase price of Eric’s woodturnings, go to funding the project.
It is worth noting that there is now a tax-deductive portal for contributions to the Project, provided by Operation Broken Silence, also doing critically important humanitarian work in the Nuba Mountains region in the south of Sudan. Only continuing assistance will allow us to maintain the present budgetary expense level.
The report for this month from the coordinating counselor covers work done from January 21 to February 22, 2023. What strikes me as particularly forceful is the outrage, commitment, and ultimate futility of efforts to address the pervasive impunity that permits Arab militia forces and gangs to rape non-Arab women and girls without legal consequences. This impunity is highlighted in the narrative with which the coordinating counselor begins her report, and includes several horrific examples. My sense is that a key motive for the length and detail of her reports is a desperate desire to be heard, to shake the world that once cared so much about Darfur into responding out of its indifference to the security and wellbeing of some of the world’s most desperate and threatened populations. Her outrage at that indifference, as well as the corruption of regional and national political Sudanese authorities, is palpable and all too justified.
Even so, Team Zamzam continues its magnificently compassionate work, often at considerable risk (as in last month’s assessment mission to Muzbat area, well to the northwest of Zamzam in North Darfur). They meet constantly with other civil society groups in the camp and have become a significant force in the discussions of policies and actions. They are widely known and deeply respected within the camp. They help address not only the needs of women and girls psychologically and physically traumatized by continuing, pervasive sexual violence, but also the disintegration of the exceedingly weak (and often non-existent) educational system. In her report the coordinating counselor highlights the fact that the UN’s children agency (UNICEF) “stopped its support for education years ago.”
This abandonment is mirrored in the grossly inadequate, and continually reduced assistance offered by the UN’s World Food Program (WFP). This attenuation of assistance was well underway before the outbreak of war in Ukraine and the consequent strain on world food supplies. The inflation in food prices has skyrocketed, even above the prices for other goods. In Darfur the problem has been made desperate by the failure of the past two agricultural seasons because of the predations on non-Arab farms by militia forces, often with the assistance or acquiesce of the Rapid Support Forces, or RSF—aptly referred to as the “New Janjaweed.”
The leader of this vicious, ill-trained, but heavily armed militia force is the extremely wealthy and highly politically ambitious Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, better known as “Hemeti.” He controls the RSF as a personal army, in rivalry with the regular Sudan Armed Forces (SAF), led by General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, head of the junta-controlled regime in power. That power came by way of an October 2021 military coup, led by Hemeti and al-Burhan. There is a dangerously conspicuous rivalry between the two men, each lusting for complete power. Many predict that two armed forces in one country is a formula for civil war, and expedient actions by the international community are actually making this outcome more likely. No region of Sudan would suffer more in such civil war than Darfur.
Amidst these grim circumstances, Team Zamzam continues with its extraordinary work, but before offering a rendering of that work, it needs to be remarked (as it was in the January report) that another well—our third—has been rehabilitated. As the coordinating counselor noted in her last report:
“A well, i.e., a manual water pump, has been repaired in Zamzam, Sector C. We found that they were in urgent need of water in the neighborhood, which is located next to Mustafa Elementary School. At this neighbourhood school, students and teachers all suffered from the water problem; but now the problem has been resolved and everyone is happy.”
The well was named after two people who mean a great deal to one of our most generous supporters. Needless to say, the “Jenny and Nell Well” was eagerly celebrated when repair work was completed!
Work carried out by Team Zamzam, January 21 through February 22, 2023
Our work in February continued to assist the displaced and as usual, the Zamzam Team counselors visited vulnerable families with special needs, including the physically and mentally handicapped, and the sick; the Team assessed their living and health conditions, and monitored the number of families who are in desperate need. The Team began in Sector A and ended with Sector D.
After the assessment, at 6am the following day elements of the Team assembled at the warehouse to gather the food needed by the most impoverished, including sugar, pasta—and soap.
In Sector A, 170 families were identified for assistance, including those with mobility disabilities, the elderly, those with medical conditions, orphans, and those with severe psychological issues.
During distribution, the beneficiaries have made clear their desire for the following:
 clean water
 health services
They called for urgent intervention by international organizations, civil society organizations, and charitable organizations to help them.
The number of people benefiting from the February distribution was 284.
Other activities by Team Zamzam
 58 patients suffering from various illnesses were accompanied to different hospitals in El Fasher for treatment.
 24 inspection visits were carried out in various neighbourhoods within the camp to evaluate the living conditions and to share views on security concerns.
 Two meetings took place with different groups of women to discuss issues concerning the camp’s women, sharing different perspectives, and agreeing on future cooperation in the sharing of information.
 Two health education and health advice workshops were provided to the camp’s pregnant women.
 Six different meetings were held with some omdas and sheiks of different neighborhoods in Zamzam to take notes on their present concerns.
 Two separate visits were made to the family of one of the victims of sexual violence of recent attacks to provide psychological counselling.
 82 individual counseling sessions
 41 group counseling sessions
For urinary fistulas:
Assisting fistula patients was again a priority. Ikram Adam Saleh, 21 years old, and Hawa Salem Otman, 24 years old, were accompanied to receive medical treatment at an El Fasher clinic (13 kilometers away by car). The first patient has recovered completely, but the second patient is still suffering from pain and has difficulty in walking.
Full moral and psychological support was provided to the two patients during and after the surgery. After treatment, and from her bedside, Ikram sent the following message:
“Over the past two years I nearly lost my sight from so much crying; my throat was constantly dry and I had so many restless nights because of pain. I nearly lost my hopes in life. But I have been rescued by strangers who have now become my best friends ever. I thank the sisters of Team Zamzam for their tremendous support and everyone else who helped me to recover.”
Ikram added that prior to fistula surgery, she lived in an extremely difficult psychological state. She was unable to participate in her community, whether in joys or sorrows, because of involuntary urination; but now she feels as if she had been reborn anew with plenty of optimism about her future.
Despite the tangible improvement of patients who received reparative fistula surgeries over the past two years, the waiting list is still long—almost 200 girls and women—with continual increases in new patients coming every month. For their part, the counselors are doing everything they can to provide psychological and moral support in order to ease the pain.
How to Help
Any assistance will be greatly appreciated by Team Zamzam, and by the girls and women whose suffering they seek to alleviate. The distribution of food and medicine presently comes as many within the camp daily move closer to starvation. Here I should also stress the tremendous efficiencies of purchases by a staff with local knowledge, as well as the value of their deep understanding of where need is greatest within this vast camp, swollen with recent displacements caused by insecurity.
NB: 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 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 also send a check directly to Eric (Eric Reeves, 31 Franklin St., Northampton, MA 01060)
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