­Project Update, August 22, 2023: Responding to Sexual Violence in Darfur

August 22, 2023


Gaffar Mohammud Saeneen and Eric Reeves, Co-Chairs

Nancy Reeves, Editor and Funding Advisor; Julie Darcq, Online Campaign Coordinator

Overview (Eric)

This month’s report from the coordinating counselor of Team Zamzam is particularly revealing of the suffering, danger, and privation experienced by the displaced persons in Zamzam IDP camp, North Darfur. It appears here as an ANNEX. After initial reporting by news organizations—mainly about the violence in Khartoum that began on April 15 of this year—there has been a steep drop-off. Journalists and human rights observers are still reporting from eastern had, to which many thousands of people have fled from West Darfur.

But reporting on South Darfur, Central Darfur, and North Darfur has been almost non-existent. This makes the detailed and comprehensive account by the coordinating counselor of Project Zamzam all the more important. She discusses the dire humanitarian situation, the almost total breakdown of security, the vast influx of newly displaced people coming to the El Fasher area from South Darfur, primarily the Nyala area, the absence of international relief organizations, and the terrifying rate of inflation for food that has left a much greater number of people with absolutely no food.  

Malnutrition (especially among children), untreated medical issues (often urgent), the overcrowding of Zamzam with a huge number of newly displaced, from both South Darfur and the East Jebel Marra region of North Darfur, especially Tawila—all present enormous challenges. 

The coordinating counselor also gives a brutally revealing account of the upsurge in sexual violence, something highlighted in news and human rights reports for victims from West Darfur, but almost completely invisible in South Darfur, Central Darfur, and North Darfur.

The response of Team Zamzam has been nothing less than heroic. And assisted by a recent generous contribution for food distributions, a considerably greater number of families were reached this past month, with more food, despite the devastating impact of inflation on food prices. The continuing efforts by Team Zamzam are, for me, humbling in their courage, determination, and compassion. This is how the coordinating counselor sees their effort:

After their ordeals at the hands of Janjaweed, the five victims were visited by the counselors   of Team Zamzam, who have provided continuous psychological and moral support. After preliminary recovery, one of the victims said:

"We were raped and yet we thought that it's our fault and shameful; but now, thanks to the sisters from Zamzam, we have overcome this old negative attitude—because the silence of the victims that causes many other diseases, and we need intensive training courses and advice to avoid any harm to us in the future.”

Thankfully, two of them have fully recovered but the rest are still attending counseling sessions on a regular basis and the Zamzam team will exert all its energies to help them until they fully recover. ***Because the determination of these girls is what drives team Zamzam counselors with powerful motivation, more energy, a sense of purpose to their mission, and a steadfastness before any challenges***

A full narrative account of the sexual assaults on these five girls appears in the ANNEX. It makes for extremely difficult reading but gives powerful insight into what Team Zamzam confronts in their response to ongoing, widespread sexual violence, especially in the area of Zamzam IDP camp. A testimonial from the mother of a rape victim also gives a sense of what Team Zamzam is accomplishing:

Touma Ibrahim Muhammad, 46 years old, mother of four girls and one boy, and the mother of a fistula patient, said:

“For two years and a half years, I could not sleep normally as others do. This was because my daughter suffered a great deal from a fistula resulting from rape. During her illness, every moment of my life I was in complete anxiety—because we did not know what she was suffering from. As a mother, I tried everything possible to find something that would cure her. We thought that she was suffering from insanity or malignant diseases that could not be cured. For over two years, every day she would stay awake until midnight, and cried from pain until the morning.

“But praise be to God and thanks be to God, after a long patience, she was rescued with the help of team Zamzam [i.e.,received fistula surgical repair in El Fasher—ER]. I have nothing to offer or repay you—please accept my prayers through my words and heart. I pray to Allah to bless you all here in life and hereafter for your good deeds.”

The project at Zamzam was able to fund three fistula reparative surgeries over the past month. Sadly, the waiting list for surgical treatment is now over 200 girls and women.


Again and again, the almost total lack of security in Darfur emerges in the narrative offered by the coordinating counselor. While the situation on the ground remains highly volatile, the movement of Rapid Support Forces (RSF) into Darfur from Khartoum continues. They are welcome only by their Janjaweed allies—indeed, they are indistinguishable to victims of violence. Former rebel groups that signed the Juba Peace Agreement (August 2000) have been able to offer some assistance to the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF), but in many cases the RSF/Janjaweed are more heavily armed, and the SAF has continually revealed itself to be extremely risk averse, even when slaughter is underway. This is what enabled the RSF to seize El Geneina (capital of West Darfur), killing thousands in the process and displacing tens of thousands to Chad, mainly in the Adré area.

Although for the moment El Fasher is the site of relative calm, there is still an RSF/Janjaweed presence in parts of the city and in the city environs. Nyala (capital of South Darfur) also seems to be regaining some measure of security. But the growing number of RSF fighters leaving the fighting in Khartoum for Darfur is frightening, especially as they are regrouping in various areas, such as El Geneina and Kutum (North Darfur). This violent, large-scale militia presence makes it extremely difficult for humanitarian organizations to mount the few relief convoys that have traveled to Darfur: they require escorts and must travel an indirect route from Port Sudan (well to the south of Khartoum). Movement of all vehicles is often adversely affected by the rainy season in theregion, now at its height.

What is Needed 

Food is the essential need of the moment, as inflation continues to push prices for all foods beyond the reach of a tremendous number of displaced persons. Shelter is urgently needed for those who have fled to the outskirts of Zamzam and are often without even rudimentary shelter (Team Zamzam is currently distributing tarps to families living completely in the open—see photos in ANNEX). Medical care, especially medicines, is also urgently needed. Both are too often simply unavailable, or in the case of medicines, unaffordable, again because of rampant inflation.

With its monthly budget for counselor salaries, fistula surgery costs, food and medicine for the most desperately needy, Team Zamzam does a truly extraordinary amount for the people of Zamzam. But they can serve only a very small portion of the vast population of Zamzam: some 500,000 people when we include the newly arrived (a North Darfur government official has declared that some 12,000 families have very recently arrived in the state). Only with the return of a substantial international humanitarian relief presence will the larger issues of hunger, health, and shelter be adequately addressed—and famine, increasingly likely, averted. But for this to happen, the world must do what is necessary to provide protection for humanitarian convoys and teams on the ground.

How to Help

Assistance is urgently needed and will be greatly appreciated by Team Zamzam, and by the girls and women whose suffering they seek to alleviate. Increasingly importantly, the distribution of food and medicine presently is all that assists many within the camp who are daily moving closer to starvation (see above). Here I should also stress the tremendous efficiencies of purchases by a staff with local knowledge, as well as the value of their deep understanding of where need is greatest within this vast camp, swollen with recent displacements caused by insecurity. 

NB: It is now possible to make a tax-deductible contribution to our project, using a portal on the website of a 501/c/3organization operating in SudanOperation Broken Silence, working primarily on health and education issues in the Nuba Mountains of South Kordofan, has created a special site for a tax-deductible contributions to our project, and we hope this makes contributing to the health and well-being of girls and women in Zamzam easier for Donors.  

We also hope that all will keep in mind our project as a whole operates with truly extraordinary efficiency, in ways matched by no humanitarian organization operating in Darfur that I am aware of, a region I have been researching for two decades. There is absolutely no overhead for this project.

Those wishing to assist in funding the work of Team Zamzam may also send a check directly to Eric (Eric Reeves, 31 Franklin St., Northampton, MA 01060)


Purchase one of his woodturnings: https://www.ericreeves-woodturner.com/gallery

100% of the purchase price of everywoodturning directly supports the project in Zamzam.


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

A “YouTube” video of Eric describing the project can be found at: https://youtu.be/QsRUa7GoVgY


Eric Reeves, Ph.D.
Sudan research, analysis, asylum representation, andphilanthropy
Fellow, Rift Valley Institute
Trustee, Darfur Bar Association
Formerly aSenior Fellow at Harvard University’s François-XavierBagnoud Center
for Health and Human Rights.
Founder, co-Chair Project Responding to Sexual Violence inDarfur  
Twitter: @SudanReeves