Project Responding to Sexual Violence in Darfur: Testimonials from girls and women at Zamzam IDP camp (North Darfur)
December 3, 2022
Responding to Sexual Violence in Darfur
Gaffar Mohammud Saeneen and Eric Reeves, Co-Chairs
Examples of what we hope to accomplish with our project in Zamzam Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camp, North Darfur (all translations by Gaffar Mohammud Saeneen):
• There have been few more compelling examples provided by the coordinating counselor for Team Zamzam than the following:
The story of Khadija Suleiman Ibrahim, 23 years old, from the Zamzam camp.
Khadija, after spending about three years in a severe depression caused by gang rape, got married last year and gave birth to a beautiful daughter, whom she named Amani which means “the wishes.” She is one of the first to receive moral and psychological support from the program of private talk sessions with Zamzam team’s counselors.
Since the end of 2020, our constant contact with her hasn’t stopped but rather, after recovering from depression, she has volunteered continuously to encourage attendees who are suffering from the same problem. After giving birth to her first child in October this year 2022, Khadija and her husband Mubarak have invited the counselors of team Zamzam for dinner at their house to share their happiness and pay their gratitude for the help they received.
“Life in 2020 was almost over for me had I not found you, my Sisters. I tried many ways to end my life, but each time I failed and felt even more shame, which was killing me slowly.
“I didn’t realise that God wanted to spare me until I met you. Looking back to those horrible days, today I feel neither ashamed nor remorseful but rather regret at how deep I had fallen because of thugs within the Janjaweed militias. Before meeting you Sisters, I wasn’t only suffering from depression and daily stress, but I was suffering from the desire for vengeance on those who humiliated me.
“Then I couldn’t stop thinking about them, and the more I thought about them, the more nightmares and flashbacks haunted me through the night. My life had continued like this in nightmares and stress for three years until that day when you Fatima, Manheil, and other women from the volunteers who came to see me. Their powerful words of that day had turned things around for me and it stayed with me until this day. Their words had not only helped me to get on my feet but I memorised by heart to use it to help others who are in difficult situations.
“Immediately after recovering from my depression, I began to think constantly about my childhood lover, Mubarak, who I thought would have abandoned me. This worried me so much, but thanks be to Allah he didn’t. You know, in Darfur one wouldn’t find many reasonably understandable men like him and today I feel luckiest wife around here. Mubarak and I both came from the same village, we grew up in the same neighbourhood, and he perfectly understands what we girls are going through.
“I must admit that the name of my daughter has popped up in my mind after about four sessions. Because then all I was thinking was my lover and I never stopped wishing to have children with him—and thank God my prayers were answered. That’s why I named her Amani and I still continue to wish for a few more children to make us happier.
“For those thugs in the Janjaweed militias who humiliated me and my friends while we were on the way back from Kolgai, I don’t have the same desire for vengeance on them now. This doesn’t mean that I have forgiven them; no, I have neither forgiven them nor forgotten what happened to us that day and what is still happening every day.
“But I feel pity for their ignorance; I’m still disgusted by their idiocy and their imbecility. I feel pity for their mothers and their sisters too. For the Janjaweed militias and the Arab nomads in general, degrading women is in their blood and in their culture and we can only change their behaviour by being strong and fighting back. What is good, though, is that many girls are now coming out to talk about what happened to them, even though no one in this country dares to press charges against Arab militias.
“But victims talking to each other through the Sisters’ Team Zamzam programme, and it is really helpful in many ways. Talking to each other through sisters who perfectly understand us is so very helpful. It helps to release all negative energies, anxiety and anger that is boiling inside the victims. Since I recovered, I haven’t stopped coming to help the Sisters who helped to get myself back until the latest stage of my pregnancy. And I won’t stop coming to participate until at least all of my friends are fully recovered.
“I feel I’m the luckiest wife and happiest new mum around. You Sisters and my husband helped me so much to defeat that devilish spirit which hunted me for three years simply by talking. But there are still many young girls out there suffering in silence from the pain of fistula and the nightmares of humiliation. I hope they all get through these difficult times, and I wish them speedy recovery. All this because of you and I’m grateful forever. I love you my Sisters of Team Zamzam.”
• Testimonial from fistula patient Zahara A. Saliem, 23 years old
Translated September 2022
"Two years ago, while we were coming from the farm which is in Shaqra area to the west of the camp [roughly 10 miles—ER]. We were a group of four girls and two women when suddenly we were attacked by a group on camels and who wore turbans. In response to the attack, we immediately tried to escape, each of us leaving her donkey and belongings behind and running in different directions.
“I was chased by two of the men until I was out of breath and fell to the ground. With that, they started beating me; I cried out but there was no one around to rescue me from them. They then did to me whatever they wanted to do and left.
[There is an extraordinary reluctance by victims of sexual violence in Darfur to speak of rape in anything but the most euphemistic terms. This is finally a measure of how shameful the crime is to victims. Indeed, many victims never speak explicitly about what they have endured, even within their own families. It is the great ability of Team Zamzam counselors to be able to overcome this painful silence in individual and group counseling sessions in many cases—ER]
“I lay down, bleeding, until a passerby helped me to get home the next day. I didn't want to tell anybody about what happened to me, but last year I felt very ill and was experiencing terrible pain. The pain was simply too much to bear, so finally, at the end of last year, I went to see a doctor. But the doctor told me I was suffering from a fistula, although I couldn't afford the cost of treatment. For over a year I suffered in silence.
“But I was brought to the attention of Team Zamzam by some of my friends. The Sisters have helped me with counseling to recover from my stress, comforted me with good advice, and then taken me to hospital to receive surgery. I feel blessed. I thank them."
• Testimonial from fistula patient Fiza Abakar Harounand, 21 years old
Translated July 2022
“My name is Fiza Abakar Harounand. I am 21 years old. I'm originally from Mahajeria [North Darfur] but I have grown up here in Zamzam. I don't know that much about where I was born because we moved here when I was five or six.
“Last year I got diagnosed with some unknown illness; this happened after an attack [rape] I experienced while we were coming back to Zamzam from a village near Tawila [North Darfur]. At the beginning I was so traumatised by the events of the attack that all I was thinking about was whether I might get pregnant from those hateful people [making clear that she knew she had been raped—ER]; but after three or four months my stress began to ease. Still, the pain would come and go. This pain continued sporadically but began increasing earlier this year. I began to lose control of myself and my life, and I couldn't sleep at night.
“My family was very worried about my situation, but they couldn't afford to take me to hospital for lack of money. I spent many nights crying, and my condition became worse and worse. My mother thought of getting help from some of our relatives who live in El Fasher and Nyala, but I refused. For I thought when people found out about my illness, it might bring us shame and more misfortune. Here in Darfur everyone thinks that the issue of dignity and honor is very important, and I didn't want anyone—especially my relatives—to find out that I had lost my virginity.
“The pain continued to become worse for three months, and finally was so bad I decided to break my silence by going to see one of the Sisters from Team Zamzam. Before this, I knew a bit about them but I never thought that they would be my saviours. In fact, they are such empathetic, generous, and gifted people that they immediately understood what I was going through. Only ten days after meeting them, I was taken to clinic for first examination and luckily the doctor said that it's an early stage of fistula which could be treated by means of a slight operation and medicine. The doctor prescribed for me some medication and gave us another appointment for September for more treatment; since then my pain has been decreasing every day.
“I now feel much better than before, and emotionally I’m getting better every day.”
• Testimonial from Toqoyi Adam Hussein, her daughter a victim of sexual violence
Translated June 2022
"I came to this area with my family last year after fed up of living in a camp for years in an impossible situation, and at first I thought that we would live in safety and security in our farms. But things had become clear to us after we began work on our farms." Toqoyi continued: "Last year, just when the harvest season was to start, armed militias/Janjaweed came and asked us to give them 50 percent of the harvest that we had planted—peanuts, some hibiscus, millet, and some sesame. But I've told them I won't give them this much for my work of three months, but they didn't take no for an answer."
She continued: "After about four days, the same militia forces came back in a group of ten men to attack us in the morning without any warning and they tied us up and we were separated from each other for one week. During this period, we were badly beaten, sexually violated, and our hair shaved to humiliate us more."
Toqoyi then said: "I finally gave up to save my daughter from the indignation of being violated by an old man who continued to assault her sexually for one week. Four months after this attack, it became clear that my sixteen-year-old daughter had become pregnant as a result of this sexual violence, although the fetus was aborted prematurely. My daughter's life was destroyed. Ever since that attack, she has changed dramatically and is very often deeply depressed—and I feel guilty for bringing her with me. We want to go back to any place on the earth where there is a sense of safety and peace, but we can't even afford to return to El Fasher."
• Testimony from fistula patient Zubida Mohamed Mahdi, 24 years old originally from Um-Ashaba
Translated June 2022
“I was taken hostage by Janjaweed militias for one month. During the period of my captivity, I went through horrible things day and night. They beaten me unconsciously, they took turns [raping] me, they forced me to wash their dirty clothes, and they forced me to eat their leftovers. While they were doing this to me, they constantly insulted me verbally on my race and colour of my skin and eventually my family had to sell off everything they owned, from our few goats to what we have harvested during the rainy season, to free me from Janjaweed."
Zubida continued: “After this incident, my entire life had been crushed down to the lowest point. For nearly a year I have sunk into a small corner of isolation where I often spend nights and days in the dark, thinking of ending my life. In those days, I didn't care much about myself and life had become tasteless and utterly without meaning. I couldn’t think about another life waiting for me ahead.
“Finally, my mother brought into the house some strange women who later helped me to defeat my depression.” She continued: “After my mother introduced them to me, the sisters from Team Zamzam kept coming back to our house and each time they spent hours trying all sorts of chats on every level of social affairs. Then one day I found myself not starting to talk with them but even sometimes called them when they didn't show up on time. Listening to the Sisters was a life-changing experience—a way to rediscover myself once again and reconcile myself with my being.
“After such an emotional experience of lows, I began to care for others, love myself more, and began to love participating in helping those who are crushed down by the nightmares of the past events. There are many like me in this camp alone suffering in silence and a sense of guilt for something they are not guilty of and I want to help them to beat that deceptive spirit within their bodies. I thank everyone who helped me and I thank you Sisters for bringing me back to life.”
• Testimonial from fistula patient Rania Bahr El-Din Idris, 26 years old
Translated May 2022
“I'm so happy that I can't even describe how I feel inside. Because for the first time in the last two years I managed to get myself together. Before my treatment, I could hardly tell the difference between days, weeks, and months. It was an extraordinarily painful period and the intensity of pain had taken control of me, depriving me of many things thatI used to enjoy doing.
“Before my illness, I used to enjoy cooking a lot, going out with friends to fetch things from market and making handmade men's hats to earn a little income. But my istula stopped me from doing this for years. It was very painful, you know...it's one of those of pains that one wouldn't even think of wishing for the worst enemy. But thank God it has gone. I now sleep well, eat well, and think positively about myself and my future.
“Since I recovered, I have returned to my old work of making handmade hats, but nowadays the market doesn't pay as well as it used to, so I'm thinking of finding something else. I thank everyone who stood with me during these difficult days. I thank everyone who contributed to my treatment costs—and my biggest thanks to the sisters of team Zamzam for saving my life”
• Testimonial of survivor of Jebel Marra assault/sexual violence Elham Abdul Rahman Siddiq, 23 years old
Translated April 2022
Elham Abdul Rahman Siddiq, 23 years old is one of the victims of sexual violence in the recent attacks on the second of Ramadan inthe East Jebel Marra area. Elham has lost both of her parents in attacks in 2006 when she was only a child and since then she grew up with her aunt in Zamzam camp until she got married in 2019. She had two children and now one ofher children has gone missing since the attack on her village on the second ofApril 2022."
From her bed side where she has been recovering from her wounds, she said:
“I was wakened by screaming coming from my cousin’s house a few yards away from us. When I left my room I saw a massive fire already burning some of parts of external barriers that are made of straw. I panicked and ran inside my house to get my children out. I took my children and ran out of my house in hurry but they the attackers ran horses at us and I immediately fell on the ground.
“This is when I lost one of my children. After this, all I heard were the sounds of screaming by my children, heavy gunshots, and other people running away in panic. They hit me hard in the head and in the stomach with their feet until I vomited. By this time, I lost consciousness. Then they did whatever disgusting things the wished on me, and I just couldn’t fight back. During this, all I heard was one of them say, “kill this woman!” and another saying: “No we should leave her for the other guys who are still chasing slaves.” After this, the next thing I knew I was wakened by a group of people who were carrying two injured children.
“After they got me here [Zamzam], my family took me to the hospital and had several stitches to my head. Thank God the bleeding had stopped, but I still feel serious pain in my left hand. I had two fractures.But other bruises are disappearing slowly. Now I wish for is to find my son as soon as possible. Please help me to find his whereabouts.
“Many people came here to bring me medicine, food, andsome fruits. Many nice people from Team Zamzam with big hearts made me feel emotional. I thank everyone for their support.”
•Testimonial of psychosocial counseling beneficiary, Amira Ibrahim, 21 years old
Translated February 2022
“My name is Amira Ibrahim. I’m 21 years old now and a fully committed volunteer with Team Zamzam since last year; I very much enjoy what I do here. I’m originally from Limina village which is 30 kilometres south of El Fasher. I fled with my family years ago to Zamzam camp and ever since Zamzam has been my home.
"What has encouraged me to be part of the volunteering group is my story and what brought me into contact with the sisters. Before joining the sisters’ programme, I was living a life of hell in a tiny isolated corner inside our house where I didn’t want to talk to anyone. This was because the Janjaweed militias raped me twice in a space of three years. The first time was when I was sixteen and the second time was two years ago.
"The second incident hurt me so much that I couldn’t handle it anymore. I even thought of hanging myself from a tree, but my mother rescued me from doing this. After the incident, for two months I couldn’t walk from my room to toilet; but what hurt me most was remembering the moment when my assailants were laughing at me.
"These nightmares continued with me for several months until last year when, thanks to the efforts of my friends and family, I received an invitation to meet with the sisters of Team Zamzam. At the beginning, I was very doubtful but after attending six or seven sessions my life had changed for good.
"At the sessions, I met 17-year-old Aisha, who lost one of her eyes in a sexual assault. I met Saja, who was humiliated in front her family in broad daylight. And I met many more whose stories made me forget my own story. In those sessions, we share our stories with each other, we hug each other when emotions overcome our feelings, and we also sing most of the time to overcome our tears. The meeting sessions have not only changed my life forever, but have also changed lives of so many of my friends who were suffering badly.”
• Testimonial ofpsychosocial counseling beneficiary Halima Abdulshaif, 22 years old
Translated January 2022
“My name is Halima Abdulshaif. I’m 22 years old and originally lived in the village of Kolgi village near Tawila town; but I have lived here in Zamzam since I was 8 years old. My misfortune and miseries began last year when we were working on a farm, and suddenly we were attacked by armed men carrying firearms, riding in cars and on horses and camels. My aunt with two of my cousins managed to escape immediately, but I and my mother were caught.
“After we were caught up, we spent a day and a half with them, enduring severe beatings and humiliating verbal insults. We were about 9 women and two men, and as the sun was about to come down, we were isolated from each other and taken individually inside tents after which the worst humiliation began. At the beginning I tried to resist but they hit me hard (with a weapon) on my back near a rib, and I lost my consciousness at that point. When I regained consciousness, my hands were still tied behind my back, my clothes were ripped apart and they were laughing. There was pain everywhere in my body, my head was dizzy, and I couldn’t breathe properly. The pain in the right rib was so severe that I could barely breathe. I thought I was going to die. My mother was only a few meters away, but her hands were also tied behind her back; she is an old woman who is already suffering from heart disease.
“I cried and begged them to let me to see my mum. One of them said they would release me if I would swear on the Quran that I would not say anything to anyone. So I swore and promised them I would not say anything.After this, they brought me to my mother, and throughout the night other girls were brought back one by one. We were all shivering from the cold of night and fear. I don’t know what happened to the two men, but some people with us that the men have been killed—and somebody said she saw one of the men shot in the chest.
“After that, in the middle of the night, they left us alone in the woods and went. Some of us were almost naked, suffering from cold and hunger. We spent the night there in very bad conditions; in the morning we made our way towards El Fasher. On our way, we were met by others who were running towards El Fasher; after walking for nearly day, we eventually reached the outskirts of the city and spent the night there. The following morning, some of our neighbours and relatives came rushing from Zamzam and they brought us some food and clothes to rescue us.
“After we reached Zamzam, some good charitable people proposed to take me to the hospital with two other two girls, but we all refused the idea of going to the hospital for treatment. This was so even though I was suffering from pain in my right rib. The problem here in Darfur among the girls is that nobody wants to be exposed: when people find out that your virginity is lost, you will become a laughingstock for the entire community; it will be much harder to find a husband as well. Not only that but also people talk behind your back, and everyone runs away from you as if you have some bad disease; and that’s why everyone kept quiet.
“I know it is wrong to keep quiet while you are suffering but this was and still is the case for many girls here. Keeping quiet about what happened to me for several months was the hardest thing I have ever lived with. During that time, I lost my sleep and was haunted by many horrible nightmares; I lost confidence in everything and everyone. I even lost confidence in my poor mother. I felt as though everyone was talking about me behind my back. For several months I continued to avoid everyone, and at night would be wakened by sudden nightmares.
“Finally, my long nightmares came an end after my aunt set up a secret plan to for me to meet with Sisters from Team Zamzam. At the beginning I was so worried of talking to them and suspicious of everything they said in our first meeting; but they kept coming to see me until I found myself talking and sharing my feelings and some funny stories since I was young. The sisters made me feel strong, positive about myself. I forgot thinking about what other people saying about me and my nightmares have gradually disappeared. My nightmares may have gone, but I still feeling pain on my rib sometimes. I thank the sisters for making me stronger.”
• Testimonial of fistula patient Zahra Abakar, 22 years old
Translated January 2022
"My name if Zahra Abaka. I’m 22 years old, from Katoul village [she suffered from traumatic fistula—ER]. After suffering with pain for three years, I was fortunate last month to have my surgery and now I feel much better in terms of pain. The doctor said that was very lucky to get my surgery done as early as possible [sic]. I suffered badly from this pain for very long time but did not lose hope that one day it would end.
“All I wish for now is to get my life back to normal so that I can help my mother and siblings. I thank everyone who has supported me for long and many months. I thank my sisters in the Team Zamzam who have always been by my side. Their moral support was the only thing that had encouraged me not to hesitate. I wish a speedy recovery to these girls who are on the waiting for their chance.”
• Testimonial of fistula surgery patient Rouwida Muktar, 23 years old
Translated December 2021
"After a long, agonising wait—after almost two and a half years in pain—the end of last year I was happy to start my new life. My new life is free of pain, free of depression, free of long irritating nights, free of worries, more friends and plenty of happiness. Two weeks after the surgery, I felt as if I was given new life in paradise and from that moment onwards everything has changed for the better for me. Fistula had almost destroyed my entire life, but thank God but for me it's over now and I only pray for those who haven't had the chance to go through surgery. I wish them speedy recovery and I thank all those who helped me to get through this."
• Testimonial of fistula patient Kalida Soubor Ahmed, 25 years old
Translated December 2021
“My name is Kalida Soubor Ahmed; I am 25 years old. For me last month was the end of the long pain that kept me in the house like a prisoner; the pain had deprived me of enjoyment normal life and stopped me from doing beautiful things. The pain was so severe that I often lost consciousness and had fever. During the last three years, I have always been living between regret, frustration, and despair, and I thought my life would end like this.
“But in the end hope came back into my life and today I feel more confident than ever. Before I received fistula surgery, I was working in the market and had experience in trading women's clothes and artifacts. Now I am hoping to return to work immediately.
“Nothing is easy here in Darfur, but my confidence is very high. I can't find words or terms to thank my Sisters from Team Zamzam for reviving hopes; but I will remain true to their friendship forever."
• Testimonial of fistula patient Hawa Galle Manies, 19 years old
"My name is Hawa Galle Manies. I am 19 years old. I have been suffering from fistula for the last three years. Last year, I stayed for 4 months in Nabd Al Hayat Hospital in El Fasher, but my family was unable to pay for my treatment and I left the hospital. When they told to leave hospital without a treatment I cried a lot, but nobody was there to help me and my father, who is blind and suffering from many illnesses. Today, praise be to God, sisters from the Team Zamzam came to surprise me with good news.
"They told me that I would go with them to the hospital for [fistula surgery], and I amvery happy for this good news. I have been in so much pain for a period ofthree years, and I cried til my tears dried. This illness stopped me fromhaving a normal life like others, and I lost hope in many things that I wasoptimistic about in the past. But today I am very hopeful despite thedifficulty of movement. I feel very happy today and I want to say thank you toeveryone who helped me.”
• Testimonial from mother of fistulapatient Hawa Galle Manis, 19 years old
Translated September 2021
"My name Khatira Ibrahim Ahmed, I'm 46 years old and the mother of Hawa Galle Manis. Today I have come to congratulate you [Team Zamzam] on the noble work that you are doing here, and I am carrying with me a warm message of appreciation and huge thanks from my family as well. If not for your programs, today my daughter would not be able to get up from her bed, in which she stayed for two years. But thank God, today, after two years of depression, pain, and isolation, she is now back to her normal self.
“Last month when she wastaken to the clinic in El Fasher [for fistula surgery], I was deeply relieved and felt she would recover; thank God, she returned well, and with high confidence.
“What destroyed our confidence and emotion was not the 'illness' itself but people around us in the neighbourhood who whispered constantly about my daughter's well-being. But now, after talking to the Sisters for two months, I feel quite relieved and happy, and so does my daughter. Here in Darfur, and especially in this camp, people are too ignorant about the reality of life. People here don't understand that in life one can gets sick; one can get killed, and my daughter is not any different from those many young girls who were raped by Janjaweed in their early teens.
“My daughter got sexually violated at the age of fifteen by a group of armed Janjaweed and ever since she has been carrying that pain in silence—more than three years now. If you, the sisters from Team Zamzam, weren't here to encourage her to speak, she would have kept her ordeals in silence for the rest of her life. This attitude of silence is what is destroying lives of many young girls in the camps. I want you to go around to see other victims in their homes in the same way you came to see us, because there are as many victims in many houses in every neighbourhood.
“The other day when people heard about my daughter's well-being, two families from my neighbourhood came to share with me the ordeals of their adolescent girls. The main problem here is that most of the times people feel ashamed and embarrassed to talk about something of which they are not guilty; people must speak now if they want find a solution for the stress. I thank you sisters for helping my daughter.”
• Testimonial of fistula surgery patient
"My name is Kaltoum Youssif; I'm 25 years old now. I'm from Deriba village in Tawila locality. I have lived here in Zamzam for years. I want thank sisters of Team Zamzam for helping me to gain my well-being. I was diagnosed with fistula three years ago and at first I thought that the pain would go away within a few weeks. This is why I didn't think to tell my family about my condition until my health became very complicated last year.
“When my family learned about my health condition, I was subjected to psychological trauma and isolation from my friends, relatives and family, and this worsened my psychological condition to the point of total breakdown. In addition to this, my husband divorced me without reason and went away. The divorce has destroyed my entire life, as I spent six months crying day and night. I didn't know what I was suffering from until last year when I was taken to clinic with the help of relatives.
“The doctor said that it's fistula at an early stage and it can be cured; but we didn't have enough money to pay fees for the clinic. After that, I went back to the camp and continued my miserable life in pain and depression. The intensity of the pain forced me to think of suicide, because I hated living in pain and isolation.
“During my pain, all I wished for that one day I could be able to find a way to heal myself so that I could prove to my husband who left me without saying good-bye. Four months ago my life changed for the better when the Sisters from Team Zamzam put my name on a list for the clinic. From the beginning I felt assured by their magical words and I knew myday would come.
“My treatment went well, as I expected, and today for the first time in three years I sleep well, for hours. Physically, Inow feel very satisfied, relieved, and psychologically very confident in myself. I just want hug every one of the Sisters. They have not only helped me with their assuring words and the expenses of clinic, but they have managed to contact my husband who left me two years ago. He is working in South Sudan, and I don't know how they have managed to find his contact information.
“It was a remarkable effort by the Sisters and this has brought plenty of happiness to me. Since the divorce two years ago, I went through hell and all I wanted ever since he left was to have him give me a chance to explain my health situation. Today, I thank God, I heard his voice on the telephone after such a long time and there is possibility of resolving our misunderstanding for good.
“I thank everyone who contributed to my well-being. I thank the Sisters for rescuing me from hell of depression and mental distress. I thank them for mediating between me and my husband.”
• Testimonial of fistula surgery patient
Translated September 2021
"My name is Khadiga Saleh Yahya, although now my friends call me the ambassador. I don't what it means, it but I like it. I am 19 years old, from Dolby village. Since I was 11 years old, we came to this camp to escape the attack on our village. I have never seen my father in my life: he was killed by Janjaweed when I was a child.
“Last year, we went to farm after life in the camp was too hard for us. We went to farm with my mother, two of my older sisters, my younger brother, and some of the neighbors. After two weeks there, the Janjaweed came in their cars and took me with them in a Toyota car by force of arms. My family had tried to save me, but they were beaten so badly that my older sister's arm was broken. In her fight against five strong men, my mother lost consciousness.
“The Janjaweed took me to their place, which was about an hour away in a mountainous area; I didn't know anything about this place. After that, some of them returned to the farm to threaten my family.They said to my mother if she wants my return she should not make any move or inform the people or else they would kill me.
“The Janjaweed held me for days and four of them took turns on me every day. All these they were laughing while they were doing their stuff on me. On the fourth day, I was returned to my family in the early hours and they left in a hurry.
“After this, I couldn't walk for two months. My mother immediately tried to take me to the hospital in El Fasher, but in El Fasher I was refused. At the time I was very worried about about friends and neighbours. All I was thinking about is that people would find out that my virginity was lost.
“After returning to Zamzam camp I couldn't sleep for many months. Finally, I was approached by the sisters from Team Zamzam, who had secretly contacted by my sister. At the beginning I was worried about talking to them; but after many visits they convinced me to talk. After attending several sessions, my life began to change for the better day after day, until I found myself taking part in convincing other victims. It has been three months now, and I'm part of Team; I became good friends with seven of them.
“The sisters not only helped me to get over bad nightmares, but they made me feel as if I were their own sibling; I will never be able to forget their kindness. Since long ago, I dreamt of going to school one day to learn writing and reading, and now because of the sisters, I know how to write names of people, animals and quite few things. I want to continue learning and helping other people to get out of depression.”
• Testimonial of fistula surgery patient
"My name is Mura Ahmed Geoma-alah, I am 45 years old from the village of Tangrara. We were attacked by the Janjaweed at beginning of last month while we were working in agriculture. The attack was on the second day after the first attack in a village half an hour away from our farm. The fleeing people told us about attack, but we didn't run away with them immediately. We thought that things will calm down a little, but in the early morning we were surprised by the attack on us without any warning.
"We are about four families who work on two farms that belong to a trader in El Fasher and the farms are close to each other; on my side I have two of my daughters and a niece, and we all work for a monthly salary. We were rounded up, circled by men on horseback, motorcycles, and a few camels—and then they immediately began to tie the hands of the girls.This is when I began to worry about what was happening and I asked them why you are doing this but one of them pointed gun on me and said “any more words and I will finish you stinky old woman.”
"I told him it's better to kill me than to humiliate me with your ignorant provocation, and then I got a painful blow from the back of the head from another man standing behind. The blow had knocked me to the ground unconscious; after this all I heard was the screaming of my older daughter. It took me about three hours to regain consciousness from the blow to my head, but still to this day the pain hasn't gone away. For two hours, the Janjaweed had done their heinous stuff on the girls and beating up everyone who resisted—and then they left.
"The hardest thing to live with is remembering the moment I regained consciousness from the blow. When I woke up my daughter and niece were crying hysterically and from their tones I realised something bad happened to them. For few days more after the attack, we couldn't look at each other’s faces and that was what drained me emotionally.
"Since then, I live in constant anxiety, depression and lack of sleep for days. I feel so guilty, I can't forget crazy scary moment, I can't stand the pain of my daughter and my niece, and I always ask myself why the Janjaweed didn't kill me to rest in peace from these unbearable nightmares. Until recently, I had lost hope for anything in life; I lost the taste for life and hated myself for living. But thank God two days ago, sisters from the Zamzam team came to calm us down. They talked to me separately and they talked to the girls as well. The talk of the counselors has a profound effect on me emotionally. It helped me reject the negative feelings, and for the first time in five weeks I slept well and so does my daughter. I thank sisters for their solidarity.”
• Testimonial of fistula surgery patient Fatima Mahayaeldain, 27 years old
Translated August 2021
“I was diagnosed with traumatic fistula at the beginning of 2018. At first I thought I would not survive, as everyone around me started to avoid meeting me, as if I were suffering from something contagious. Here in Darfur, words can spread as quickly as fire in dry straw, and people started to make their judgments before knowing the truth.
“This situation has brought nothing good but more anxiety and stress to my mother and siblings. I stopped going out to interact with people for nearly two years, and my mother was drained by the emotions of shame, as if the illness was her fault. Last year, after my mother had begged many relatives to lend her some money, we went to see a doctor. He said this was a curable fistula which could betreated with a light operation and medication. But after staying two weeks inthe clinic, we run out of money and left halfway through the treatment.
“Several weeks later after leaving clinic, the pain has gradually returned, haunting me with stress and sleep deprivation for many months. I felt less pain this past winter, but the stress didn't leave me.
“Two months ago I met the sisters from Team Zamzam, who came to pay me visit after my mother had contacted them. In the beginning I did not really feel hopeful that I had any chance of recovery from this illness, after losing so much hope and weight together. The sisters in our first meeting registered my name and talked to me for about an hour and half, listening intently. Since our first encounter, they have never stopped seeing me—and three weeks ago they surprised me with the news that I would be going to the clinic for treatment. Since I began seeing the sisters they have come to visit me regularly; they talk to me at least four times a week, and sometimes they even call me on phone to talk at length.
“Each time they come to see me for talk, my mood would instantly change for good afterwards. Their words had very strong effects on me. Their words can awake any bleeding heart. The sisters made me feel strong and positive about myself and this had even positive impact on my mother who is look happier than ever. The sisters had not only made me feel better about myself, but they even managed to change the attitude of my friends who used to avoid me constantly.
“I now feel much better, the pain is disappearing, I sleep well in the night, and my mood is raised, and I’ve begun to understand better the naivety of people passed their judgment on me before knowing anything.
“Through the sisters, I have met new energetic friends and many other young sisters who went through a similar situation in the past. And with the help of sisters, some of us have now created a new volunteering group through WhatsApp (called “Sisters for Change”), aiming to help even more girls and women. Here in this camp and in the other camps in most of Darfur there are many thousands of young girls suffering from similar [sexual violence] in total silence. The stigma attached to this illness is so unbearable and the physical pain is so debilitating.
“Social isolation is dispiriting and its psychical impact is exhausting. The depressing part of this is that when people hear that someone is suffering from this pain or illness, they look at you as if it’s your own fault. In fact, all this was caused by the bad things that something happened between bushes and corridors of houses without one's consent [sexual assault]. Everyone knew of this reality, but they just wanted to blame the victims."
• Testimonial of fistula surgery patientIbtisam Abdulrahman Adam, 18 years old
Translated August 2021
"My name is Ibtisam Abdulrahman Adam, and I'm 18 years now. Two years ago, I stopped going to school because of the pain [from traumatic fistula]. I hated myself so much that I thought of ending my life by hanging myself from a tree. I tried suicide twice, but my mother stopped me. The pain was so excruciating, and the isolation from people was one of the worst things I have ever experienced. Even some my family—seven people—avoided me, and my friends from childhood days started whispering and spreading nasty rumors about me. I had lost almost all hopes in life until last May  when the sisters from Team Zamzam came to see me in our house.
"The sisters talked to me continuously for two hours and that has helped me to recover my lost confidence. I felt much better—and after they took me to the clinic [for fistula reparative surgery] my pain disappeared. I knew from day that I didn't have the disease that ignorant people had assumed. My friends had spread rumors about me, and that’s what was destroying my confidence; but I'm now feeling positive about myself, and I thank the sisters of Zamzam for this great change in my life.”
• Testimonial of fistula surgery patient
Translated July 2021
"My name is Jara Arbab and, I'm 20 years old. I am fine now, and thank God and thanks for everyone who helped me to get treatment, and my special thanks to my sisters of Team Zamzam, who helped me with kind words and warm hugs. Had it not been for them and their constant attention, I would have still been in the bed that I have been in for almost a year and a half. Since ten days ago the pain eased and I feel that I can do things that I have been denied in the past year and half. Now I can move and walk easily, I can wash my clothes, I can cook and I can do many things.
“I missed so much going out with my friends but I can reward myself. The only thing I don't want to do anymore is to go to our village in the countryside, where I went through this pain. There were two Janjaweed men riding camels and they had weapons. I had been tied-up for two days, and each day they took turns on me many times, and laughed and spit on my face. I pray God punish them in this life and in the day of judgment. The same people did this to my friend from a neighbouring village two months after me. She nearly got her throat cut off and she has breathing problems and always complains of pain.
“When my friend's uncle and older brother tried to get those people arrested, the next day they came in a group, surrounded our village, and all of them were armed. Everyone in the area got scared of them and they let the arrest complaint go.
“Thank you forhelping me.”
• Testimonial of counseling beneficiar
Translated July 2021
"My name is Halima, I am 17 years old now. I have three sisters and two young male brothers, and weall now live in Zamzam with our widowed mother. My father was killed in the Darfur war and I was two years old when we came to Zamzam. I do not know much about what happened when we left our village in Gallab becauseI was a child.
"Last year, while we were at our farm [during harvest season] with my mother and two of my siblings, five Arab armed men came to us from the Gallab area and then they forcibly took me with them, and during this incident my mother tried to rescue me, but she was severely beaten and hit in the head. My mother lost her balance and fell on the ground.
“From here they took me totheir tent on camelback, about an hour away from our farm. After two days of this [sexual assault] they released me and threatened me, telling me not to say anything to anyone; otherwise my family would be subjected to murder. For those days I didn't know what was happening to me. All I was feeling was pain—it was so painful. After that incident I was feeling a severe pain for many weeks and I am still in pain sometimes.
“I didn't want to talk about what happened to me to anyone until sisters from Team Zamzam came to encourage m to be strong. I have seen them for two months now and I'm feeling stronger, happier and sometimes feel stupid for not taking the opportunity to talk with them from the first meeting. Sisters from Team Zamzam helped me and I will never forget them.”
• Testimonial of victim of sexual violence
Translated April 2021
(From a woman responding to the three counselors after their emergency visit to the Tawila area in North Darfur on April 6th. During this visit, they met a woman named Kaltouma who said):
“I don't know my age because I never went to school but I think I'm fifty something. I live in Koalgi village [evidently very small, as it appears on no standard map of North Darfur] in Tawila locality. Last year at the beginning of harvest season I sent my daughter Amona, who was 16 years old at the time, to work with other people from neighboring farms. She went to the Tawila markets to fetch necessities for us and on her way back to farm she and other women were attacked by camel herders at gunpoint. They were badly beaten and Amona’s left arm was broken.
“Besides this, other bad things happened to them but she always found it difficult and refused to share with us until recently [“bad things” is the most common euphemism for sexual assault].
“Since that attack her behavior has totally changed. She wakes up in the middle of night screaming; she becomes very aggressive with people and everything around her. The past few weeks she did not get out of her bed and I was worried about her well-being.Her younger sister told me she was planning to hang herself from a tree. I don't know what to do right now, I can't leave her alone to go even to fetch water for my other children. Please I need your help; please talk to her if youcan."
[The counselors managed to talk to Amona for three hours, provided her a small gift, and convinced her to talk to her mother.]
• Testimony from fitula patiebt Faisha Ibrahim, 27 years old
Translated April 2021
"My name is Aisha, and I am from originally from Tawila but now I live in Zamzam. I work in El Fasher city as a cleaner for small daily salary, but in the future I want to be a trader in artifacts. I can't believe five months have passed since I had my treatment. It was in December last year and ever since my pain has gone and many positive things have happened.
“Remembering those years of pain, depression, and isolation, I can say it wasn't easy, but I must share with you guys my debt of gratitude for your help. Because if you weren't here to help to me, I still could have been in my bed. But now I'm working like others to earn a living and, Alhamdulillahi—healthy, happy, and giggling with friends.
“I must say that fistula pain is very agonising physically and mentally and especially irritating when the temperature is humid. It’s just one of those things that makes you lose control of yourself which often leads to negative things like thinking of ending one's life.
“A few years ago, a relative I know took her own life because she couldn't bear it anymore and there are still many like her who are suffering silently. The pain of fistula is very nasty, but it's the stigma that destroys the strength of a person. Because when people find out that you have this thing, everyone runs away as if you have some incurable disease and this what pushes people to the corners of isolation.
“But now things are slowly changing here because of this initiative, which has immensely helped many people to stand on their feet—and perceptions of many neighborhoods and people are changing gradually too. The other day at work, I met a girl and after working together for weeks she revealed to me what she had gone through with her fistula. I told her that I myself went through the same agony and immediately we both looked at each other laughed.
“A few years ago, these things one couldn't be shared even with the dearest in one's the family; but there is big hope many people will come through. Now, Alhamdulillahi, things are going well here and the positive thing is that people are beginning to understand about this issue much better. But there are still places where people are too ignorant about it, especially in the other camps like Abu Shouk.
“There are many young girls who are suffering silently. Because of this, one of the Sheiks in Abu Shouk camp had even thrown out his daughters from his house and accused them of being whores—and now both are sleeping rough in the streets in El Fasher.
“These two girls now depend on begging on the streets. This is how bad it’s when people don't understand that it's not your fault"
• Testimonial of psychosocial counseling beneficiary
Translated March 2021
“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 a 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 Team Zamzam, 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."
• Testimonial of fistula surgery patient
Translated March 2021
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 in 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.”
“Tears of caring father from Zamzam”
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 in 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.”
More generally, the coordinating counselor has recently said to Gaffar and me:
“We have noticed that the level of improvement among the girls and women receiving counseling increases with the number of new arrivals to attend the sessions. It seems many people are starting to hear about the benefits of this program from the girls who attends counseling sessions, and this is very good….”
"We have noticed a positive development in the behavior of young girls; and self-confidence is increasing. We now can confidently say that we have been able to break the psychological barrier that resulted from stigma and social isolation. At the beginning it was very difficult to talk to them about what was going on inside their heads but now things are different. Some of the victims brought their friends to the counseling sessions and this has helped us a lot. That's why last month we rewarded some of those with a recreational trip to El Fasher which was useful and helpful and we intend to do this again for this month.”