Project Responding to Sexual Violence in Darfur: March 29, 2021 Update

April 18, 2021

Project Responding to Sexual Violence in Darfur: March 29, 2021 Update 

Gaffar Mohammud Saeneen and Eric Reeves, Co-Chairs 

Julie Darcq, Online Campaign Coordinator

(Previous updates are archived at | https://www.ericreeves-woodturner.com/blog/)

Introduction (Eric Reeves)

March has been another extraordinary month for the project, and a relatively full account of what we’ve been able to accomplish appears below, both in narrative and statistical form. But it is my strong sense that two communications—from the psycho-sexual counselors who are the critical elements in our project—give the best sense of what we as a team are striving for, what success looks like from our perspective. Both messages have been conveyed to me by my co-chair, Gaffar Mohammud Saeneen,as he received them from Zamzam internally displaced persons camp, where there are thousands of victims of sexual violence:

[1] From: Gaffar Mohammud <gaffar84@live.fr> Date: Tue, Mar 9,2021 at 9:39am

Tears of caringfather from Zamzam (Internally Displaced Persons camp, North Darfur)          

A resident of Zamzam camp approached the counselors today and said to them, "You have saved my daughter's life from contemplation of suicidal thoughts, depression, and the frustration that has been haunting her since such a long time ago, when she was just a child." And he continued by saying, “My daughter has never recovered since that day when she and her mother were tied up on our farm by the devilish camel herders, whom I will never be able to forgive, even on the day of judgment.” And then he broke into tears. And he finished by saying, "I have nothing to offer you as reward for helping my daughter but I have asked her to come here every day to help you, and to help herself to be strong.” 

[2] From Gaffar Mohammud < gaffar84@live.fr > Date:Sat, Mar 20, 2021 at 8:55am

From a young girl 16 years old, and a victim of sexualviolence … This is what she said:

“My name is Mahasin, and I am 16 years old. Two years ago, I was beaten severely with my mother while we were working on our farm; afterwards, the men did very bad things to us. My family took me home in a cart because I couldn't walk for very long period because I'm suffering from pain. All this time I have not been able to go out of the house because I was afraid of all the men and overcrowded places. Until recently I didn't want to go outdoors to talk with other people because of what everyone thinks and talks about us. But after seeing sisters from TeamZamzam, who treated me like their own sister, I feel much better. I'm very happy for their support and for listening to me. I thank you for this nice gift."

Project Responding to Sexual Violence in Darfur: March 29, 2021 Update 

PROJECT STATUS, MARCH 27, 2021

The reality of Darfur today is that violence continues, insecurity keeps some 2.5 million people either displaced internally or living in eastern Chad as refugees. Reports of extreme sexual violence against non-Arab/African girls and women are continuous. And many tens of thousands of these girls and women bear the terrible psychic scars of that violence with nowhere to turn. Often victims have never spoken—to anyone—about what they have endured and continue to experience. Identifying and reaching these victims is a daunting task in itself. But our sixteen counselors (as well as volunteers) have clearly earned the trust of girls and women throughout Zamzam camp. Word of mouth has been extraordinary, and as the testimonials above indicate, much progress has been made.

 

Here I would highlight the number of girls and women who have received treatment and assistance this month (the figures for previous months can be found in the archived Updates/). Gaffar reports, on the basis of a survey of March 1 – March 21, 2021:

Total counseling sessions for first three weeks of March: 161

• Number of girls and women who have received counseling:


67 young girls the ages of between 14 and 23
11 girls between the ages of 24 and31
18 women between the ages of 33 and42

Total number of girls and women receiving counseling: 96

• Typical number of counseling sessions per individual:

23 persons received three counseling sessions each. Theseare primarily young girls and women (ages 14 – 23)


19 persons received two counselingsessions each (ages between 18 to late twenties)

54 persons received at least 1 counseling session


Total number of girls and women whose condition warrants being on the priority list: 62

• Number of girls and women on the counselors’ “priority list” (suffering from acute psychological distress):


16 young girls between the ages of 13 and 18
32 young girls between the ages of 18 and 29

14 women over the age of 30

 

Medical Health: Fistula Surgery update

We have also begun to plan for a fourth fistula surgery in April, with our February surgical patient now back at Zamzam, where she is described as overjoyed and regretting only that she can’t write her thanks herself, but has communicated those thanks on an almost daily basis—a measure of now much surgical repair means to her life. Fistulas are one of the most debilitating, shaming, and disabling of the injuries resulting from sexual assault. Often the nature of the assaults makes clear that creating fistulas is the goal of the assailant, as when long sticks or knives are inserted into the vagina or anus. While at present our budget allows us to finance only one surgery per month (and which is possible only with the assistance of several attending counselors), the waiting list for the surgery continues to grow, and with word of our successes, the waiting list of dozens only grows longer.

The counselors in Zamzam are engaged in a wide range of efforts in Zamzam camp,with an increasing sense of their own strength and the possibilities that have opened up to them, particularly as their reputation within the camp grows and trust deepens.

These women are also providing necessities to the most impoverished (particularly widows with children and to the disabled and very elderly).

They distribute sanitizing soap widely and provide prophylactic instruction concerning Covid-19, which appears to be surging widely in Sudan. Indeed, it appears that there has been an outbreak of the virus in El Fasher, and will inevitably make its way to Zamzam. The father of one of the counselors died very recently of Covid-19. The counselors will be increasing the distribution of masks and mask-making materials in April.

The counselors also organized the first of what promises to be a series of recreational excursions for girls to the nearby city of El Fasher (the capital city of North Darfur and the second largest city in all of Darfur). Many of them have never been to El Fasher except to labor, and actually to enjoy the city in various ways was a hugely successful activity. It will soon be replicated, with priority given to the girls most deeply affected by clinical depression. It is impossible to describe the overwhelming boredom, dreariness,sadness, and danger of Zamzam camp itself. For those who have been in the camp for most or the entirety of their lives, such a change in scene is invaluable.

Zamzam was established at the height of genocidal displacement in 2004 – 2005 and has been the second largest of the IDP camps in Darfur after Kalma (outside Nyala,capital of South Darfur). Over the years the camp has seen many waves of newly displaced, especially from North and Central Darfur (a collections of photographs of Zamzam over the years is available upon request).

Below are additional accounts of what Team Zamzam has been able to accomplish over the past month). Julie Darcq has captured a great deal of this and posted it on Instagram (EricReevesWoodturner), as well as on LinkedIn. She also provided critical publicity for a publication about Zamzam camp and our work as it appeared in the French newspaper Le Monde (French is Julie’s first language). Key excerpts, as well as a PDF of the entire article, appear both on Instagram and on the home page of my woodturning website (www.ericreeves-woodturner.com/).

 

Further information about Team Zamzam (Gaffar Mohammud Saeneen)

Gaffar,who has excellent English, is in regular contact with the counselors; he has provided additional information about the month’s activities and accomplishments,all of which make clear the catalytic nature of the Team Zamzam project:.

82 families have been assisted:


82 families have been assisted with foodstuffs (including flour and sugar, soup,pasta) and sanitizing soap (the counselors’ intimate knowledge of the camp allows for highly effective targeting of these resources).

Distribution of basic necessities continues; the beneficiaries of this month’s distribution (March 1– March 24):


• physically disabled people
• the blind
• widowed women with orphans
• the very elderly
• the most deeply impoverished families  


Number of beneficiaries:


22 families in Section A of Zamzam camp 
17  families in Section B
19  families in Section C
24 families in section D

Private talk sessions with the victims of sexual violence: 

The private talk programme is now non-stop and the counselors will continues to provide psychological counseling; with a hotline operator in place, they are able to respond 24/7. In the private talk sessions, many of the victims are given gift boxes containing women's cotton, shaving razors, shaving cream, and toothpaste.These boxes were provided to twenty-seven girls and women

Additionally,the drawing workshop requested by the coordinating counselor is attracting many girls and women, and for the two months of the program’s existence, there have been an average 9 – 11 victims attending daily.


Patients with fistulas

A team of four counselors was assigned to accompany the March surgery patient and provide pre- and post-operative support for her; four more counselors will accompany the surgical patient for April. It is a time-consuming process, especially with counseling sessions in such great demand. The task of determining fairly whose fistula is most in need of surgical repair is also demanding. Other patients who are on the waiting list are provided with medicine (primarily for urinary infections), and here also distribution of medicines depends on the observation of the counselors, who are assigned to supervise the affairs of fistula victims prior to surgery.


Other activities of this month


Counselors have also been active in providing health advice, raising awareness,and giving guidance on the seriousness of the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic. Emphasis is given to how to avoid unnecessary gatherings, and this advice is provided on a daily basis. This becomes increasingly important as the spread of the virus appears to be accelerating rapidly in Sudan and is evidently spreading in the area of El Fasher, North Darfur.

Given security concerns, especially as the counselors move outside the camp proper to respond to girls and women in acute distress, a carefully vetted additional male guard/escort has been added to the team. He has access to a car and in addition to providing protection as required, he is able to transport counselors to El Fasher for food purchases in the market and other essential items.

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Summary (from an overview by coordinating counselor [Tahani], provided to Gaffar earlier this month):


The meeting took place today in the presence of all counselors. And as usual the coordinator gave a very warm greeting of appreciation and gratitude to all the team members, volunteers—and in particular to those who people are supporting this project:

"Last month, we did a great job, and everyone on the team did her duty honestly, professionally and sincerely. Now, after nearly six months together in this work, we have learned a lot from this noble project, and we have also learned from each other. Presently some of us feel as if we have been working together for many years.

“This project has contributed a lot in changing lives of misery into positive lives, full of vitality and aspirations; today we are so proud that we are part of the project and consider ourselves to be extremely lucky. This project has allowed us not only to restore happiness, but also to give reassurances—and to fill up the hearts of those silent victims with happiness, joy, and purposeful lives…lives with a sense of meanings and optimism.

“All this has also changed our lives for the better, and in this regard no matter what we say here we cannot find sufficient words to express our gratitude to you. But on behalf of my colleagues, I promise to you that we will carry out our duty sincerely with your name imprinted in our shirts to every corner where there are victims. Thank you.”

Please support our ongoing efforts in Zamzam camp: purchase one of Eric’s woodturnings and know that 100% of all proceeds from all sales go directly to the funding of Team Zamzam’s work.

www.ericreeves-woodturner.com/gallery

(An album of digital photographs of Zamzam camp over the years is available upon request: ereeves@smith.edu/)