Project Responding to Sexual Violence in Darfur: Testimonials from girls and women at Zamzam IDP camp (North Darfur), April 16, 2021

September 26, 2021

Examples of what we hope to accomplish with our project in Zamzam Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camp, North Darfur

• Translated by/received September 26, 2021 from Gaffar Mohammud Saeneen  <gaffar84@live.fr>

Testimonial from mother of Khatira Ibrahim Ahmed: (received September 26, 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 was taken 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.”

• Translated by/received September 26, 2021 from Gaffar Mohammud Saeneen  <gaffar84@live.fr>

Testimonial from Kaltoum Youssif, 25 years old (received September 26, 2021)

"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 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 clinic. From the beginning I felt assured by their magical words and I knew my day would come.

“My treatment went well, as I expected, and today for the first time in three years I sleep well, for hours. Physically, I now 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 me left 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 telephone after such a long time and there is possibility of resolve 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.”

• Translated by/received September 11, 2021 from Gaffar Mohammud Saeneen  <gaffar84@live.fr>

Testimony of Khadiga Saleh Yahya (“the ambassador”), September 11, 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 m 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 inEl 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 wer 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.”

• Translated by/received September 17, 2021 from Gaffar Mohammud Saeneen  <gaffar84@live.fr>

Testimonial of Mura Ahmed Geoma-alah, 45

"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 belongs toa 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 few camels—and then they immediately began to tie the hands of the girls. This is when I'm 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.”

• Translated by/received September 13, 2021 from Gaffar Mohammud Saeneen  <gaffar84@live.fr>

Testimonial of Ibtisam Abdulrahman Adam, 18 years old:

"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 the childhood days started whispering and spreading nasty rumors about me. I had lost almost all hopes in life until last May [2021] when the sisters from Team Zamzam came to see me in our house.

"The sisters talked tome 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 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.”

• Translated by/received September 13, 2021 from Gaffar Mohammud Saeneen  <gaffar84@live.fr>

Testimonial of Fatima Mahayaeldain, 27 years old

"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 be treated with a light operation and medication. But after staying two weeks in the 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 thatI 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."

• Translated by/received July 13, 2021 from Gaffar Mohammud Saeneen  <gaffar84@live.fr>

The testimonial below is from Munira's mother [Munira is one of this month’s [July’s] seven fistula patients]:

"My name is Awadiya Haroun and I am Munira's mother. I came here today because I want to give you words of thanks on behalf of my family for helping my daughter, who suffered from great pain for about three years. For three years my daughter cried a lot and even we cried with her until our tears dried. We were dreaming one day that we can find her treatment costs, but herein Darfur we live in a camp among people who are all suffering from poverty like us.

“You don't know what it is like to see your daughter suffer in pain and wake up in the middle of night and cry. Because of her, I too suffered in silence and it was very painful to go through that. My words of thanks wouldn't be enough, but if you were a mother who went through that you may understand the feelings of my happiness and gratitude. Munira now for the first time in three years eats well, she sleeps well, she always wakes early, she begins to talk positively about her future and now she feels so energetic. I have nothing to give you except my words of thanks, but you are all invited next Friday for dinner at my home to come taste Munira's cooking. I will never stop praying for the people who helped provide the funds for her treatment. God bless these good hearted-people.”

• Translated by/received July 25, 2021 from Gaffar Mohammud Saeneen <gaffar84@live.fr>

Testimonial of Jara Arbab, 20 years old:

"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 for helping me.”

• Translated by/received May 21, 2021 from Gaffar Mohammud Saeneen <gaffar84@live.fr>

"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 treatment I cried a lot, but nobody was there to help me or 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 am very happy for this good news. I have been in so much pain for a period of three years, and I cried til my tears dried, and I lost hope in many things that I was optimistic about in the past.But today I am very hopeful despite the difficulty of movement. I feel very happy today and I want to say thank you to everyone who helped me.”

• Translated by/received April 11, 2021 from Gaffar Mohammud Saeneen <gaffar84@live.fr>

"My name is Halima, I am 17 years old now. I have three sisters and two young male brothers, and we all 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 to their 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 now 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.”

 

• Translated by/received March 20, 2021 from Gaffar Mohammud Saeneen <gaffar84@live.fr>

From a girl 16 years old, and a victim of sexual violence

“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."

• Translated by/received April 20, 2021 fom Gaffar Mohammud Saeneen <gaffar84@live.fr>

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 you can."

[The counselors managed to talk to Amona for three hours, provided her a small gift, and convinced her to talk to her mother.]

• Translated by/received March 20, 2021 from Gaffar Mohammud Saeneen <gaffar84@live.fr>     

From a girl 16 years old, and a victim of sexual violence:

“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."

• Translated by/received March 9, 2021from Gaffar Mohammud Saeneen <gaffar84@live.fr>

“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 in April 2021:

“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.”