Arthur Mist is in Darfur where a humanitarian emergency has killed up to 300,000 people and displaced three million in the last six years
I’m in Darfur and there is little to compare with my hometown of Milton Keynes. Here, some three million people are living in shacks and shelters. Most people I talk to are too scared to go home or to farm. It’s an awful mess. There are no services in the camps but there is a constant threat of homes being bulldozed to the ground. People are really living on the margins.
I’m here to find out what we’re trying to do to change things and if it’s working. As an emergency officer, my job is to help place and track funds raised in the UK. I want the money to be used effectively and wisely – it’s not an easy job.
When need in a place is so great, life really gets boiled down to, “how do I survive”? World Vision is responding by providing the basics people need, while also giving livelihood training. We are providing chickens to 600 families. The birds lay large eggs every day. It’s a struggle to know who to give the chickens to. There are 30,000 people in the camp I went to today – all of them need the benefit. I keep reminding myself that our priority is with the poorest of the poor.
In Khartoum I visit a pre-school project run by local partners. The classes are packed full of happy kids, all being fed. There are more girls than boys and a proportionate number of disabled children who are learning in mainstream education. The school is a far cry from the traditional stark room with children sitting on the floor – with lots of colour and toys. World Vision is training teachers in child development, ways of communicating and psychological learning.
Children usually have to pay for pre-school but World Vision supports this project so it’s free. The fee is an obvious barrier to education right from the start. Children can’t go to primary without a pre-school certificate, so the charge bars many from ever starting school. Many kids here are destitute – they end up as street children or labourers. But at the school today there are teenage street children attending pre-school classes, showing me that things can always be turned around.
I didn’t sleep very well last night as out here by the project, there’s nowhere to hang my mossie net so I wrap myself in it instead – the mossies still manage to get through. I meet with some farmers’ and women’s groups. The women talked about Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and women’s right to land. There’s also a lack of traditional birth attendants. It’s dangerous to give birth here. We are trying to help build relationships in the community by working with community groups and learning more about their needs.
Back at base and a man from Ghana, who works for World Vision, has found out his son back home has just died. He’s not sure if he’ll be able to get an exit visa. The government is making it very difficult for NGOs to operate. Sometimes it can take a month to leave the country. It made me realise the sacrifice people make coming to work here. A lot of them leave their families behind. In the end we find out he has an exemption and he can go home to Ghana.
I was last here November 2005. There are more refugees now – they’re slowly coming to the camps as the Janjaweed occupy their land. At a very basic level, this is an Arab verses non-Arab conflict, but it is complicated by harsh environmental conditions pushing the rebels south where they fight for resources. And the complication continues because in this one place there’s a mixture of people escaping conflicts in the north, south, east and droughts in the north ten years ago. Some children speak Dinka so I share a few words with them and they are very surprised.
I’m staying in a World Vision team house with a couple of Ethiopians. We are playing some excellent table tennis and keeping on top of the footie. It’s very flat and dusty but as it’s the rainy season, there’s a lot of cloud cover. It’s quite cool. We travel back to the base and on the way we stop to talk to a man ploughing his field with a donkey. He is getting ready for the rainy season. We asked if we could help but the donkey kept galloping off and left quite a few wiggly lines on the field. As the days draws to a close we listen to cheesy 80s music and chew on mutton that has been cooking all day.