Project Responding to Sexual Violence in Darfur: Providing Safety and Rehabilitation for Girls and Women in Darfur | Gaffar Mohammud Saeneen and Eric Reeves, Co-Chairs
November 26, 2020
I have been in regular communication with my Darfuri colleague Gaffar, and his updates have proved deeply encouraging of our project to respond to the most neglected victims of the Darfur genocide. Gaffar is in regular touch with our “Team Zamzam,” working in the second largest displaced persons camp in all of Darfur, with over 100,000 residents.
Additionally,we have continued to supply sanitizing soap and fabric to be sewn into masks; we have also continued to provide modest amounts of food to the most needy of the impoverished population of Zamzam. That I write this update on the American holiday of “Thanksgiving” is a painful irony.
Our deliberations on priorities for the coming month of December are ongoing; we will continue and indeed accelerate our counseling efforts for victims ofsexual violence. But Covid-19 is pressing more and more dangerously on Sudan,and there is an almost total lack of resources in the Zamzam/El Fasher area.There is almost no testing, data collection/collation, or even medical investigation within the camp. There is on the part of the displaced a grave ignorance of the very nature of the Covid-19 virus, and many people who apparently have the disease are writing it off as seasonal malaria (following the seasonal rains that ended in late September). Sanitary resources are almost non-existent as well, and “social distancing” is a grimly perverse notion in these overcrowded camp settings.
I attach below key excerpts from communications I’ve received from Gaffar over the past two weeks.
November 23, 2020
Yesterday, I had a lengthy meeting with Team Zamzam ) via WhatsApp and they told me that everything is going well and they are continuing with their daily work until we meet again at the end of this month to evaluate their performance and setup new plans of action for the coming months.
Regarding the health situation in the camp and other camps in the suburbs of El Fasher and the city of El Fasher itself, the overall health conditions is getting worse than were in the past, with a total lack of attention and the absence of the state. They (Team Zamzam) told me that there are sick people in every corner of the Northern Darfur capital and everyone thinks is a just post-rain malaria, but I suspect is something else. It seems to me that the Government are still not willing to admit about the outbreak of Covid-19 in peripheral regions of Sudan.
November 17, 2020
The counselors are doing well with the victims of sexual violence. Since they have started their work, dozens of women and young girls have came forward to approach the counselors to share their horrors, sufferings and past trauma in very confidential manner. This because of sensitivity of this issue within a male-dominated society is always difficult to even hint to anyone, let alone to direct approach to people randomly.
In the past three weeks, they have managed to create a very good, favorable and friendly environment with most of the influential women of the camp who have good insights and knowledge of what has been going on inside and outside of the camp in the past years; they are now coordinating and working with them in a very strictly confidential manner to talk to the victims far away from male eyes. On average, the (counselors)are providing counseling and psychological support through confidential talk on one to one basis to between 8 to 12 victims per day and the vast majority of the victims appears tobe young girls in their early twenties who are still suffering some sort of depression and most of them they do not want their families and their neighbourhood to know what happened to them.
According to the counselors it appears to be there may be over thousands of potential victims in Zamzam alone and there some of them are children. They told me that there are many silent victims who have been sexually violated outskirts of the camp while they were out for gathering firewood and others are victims of inside of camp by those who are pretending to guard the camp. and the finger of accusation most of the time is directly pointed towards Janjaweed militias.
That is why the counselors are very cautious and careful in their approach, because they think if they have been exposed and found out what they are doing by the male population it may jeopardise their lives and the lives of those victims to great danger. But their approach has so far has been successful, they said that some of the victims felt relieved and happy after the sessions of talks and some of them even said to the counselors that they never thought one day someone will regards them as worthy individuals of the society.
[This seems to me the ultimate measure of success in our efforts--ER]
So, now we are thinking (myself and the counselors) about the possibility of prioritising the next distribution to those victims who have been seen by the counselors and would be grateful to have your opinion on this suggestion. I will keep you updated.
Gaffar Mohammud Saeneen