Project Update, February 21, 2022: Responding to Sexual Violence in Darfur

February 21, 2022

Gaffar Mohammud Saeneen and Eric Reeves, Co-Chairs 

Julie Darcq, Online campaign coordinator; Nancy Reeves, editor and financial facilitator

Overview (Eric Reeves)

The political crisis in Sudan continues to deepen, as do multiple signs that thejunta led by General al-Burhan and Rapid Support Forces (RSF) Commander Hamdan Daglo (“Hemeti”) will use all necessary force to retain its wholly illegitimate claim to power. Brutal violence directed against civilians peacefully demonstrating for democracy and civil rights has killed and wounded scores inKhartoum alone. Hospitals and medical workers have been targeted for assisting demonstrators and tear gas has been deployed against medical facilities.Arrests by the junta’s security forces continue to increase, despite denials by Hemeti and others.
Sudan’s first civilian Prime Minister Hamdok in more than 30 years resigned from his post on January 2, and there is no longer even a semblance of true civilian governance—or any indication that this will come in the foreseeable future.  Put simply, the junta can maintain power only by increasing the brutality of its repressive measures, and it shows every sign of doing precisely this.
The international response, including that of the African Union, has been poorly coordinated and insufficiently robust. 

Zamzam IDP camp, North Darfur

There are a great many knock-on effects from military rule in Sudan, and these are summarized in the Annex to this update by the coordinating counselor for Team Zamzam. Despite the increase in violence and the deteriorating health situation, the counselors have continued energetically and with growing knowledge of the challenges to be met.
This past month (going back to January 23, 2021) the counselors have provided the following:
• Food was provided to 113 families comprising 672 persons, focusing on the most destitute and needy camp residents; food distributions included pasta, flower, rice, cooking oil, tea, and rice; priority was given to the very elderly, widows with children, and the disabled.
• Four bars of soap were provided to 170 families—680 bars altogether.Sanitation in the camps is becoming more critical as hepatitis E continues its deadly spread among pregnant women, who are especially vulnerable. Between October and January, 126 deaths were recorded among pregnant women in Zamzam and two other nearby camps. Moreover, as Covid-19 moves inexorably deeper into Sudan and Darfur, sanitation needs will become increasingly urgent. There is almost no testing for the virus and consequently no reliable reporting. Many in rural farming communities have never heard of the virus.
Th backbone of the Team Zamzam project remains offering both psychosocial counseling and surgical repair of fistulas caused by sexual violence. It should be understood that while such surgery is prohibitively expensive by local standards ($400 per procedure), it is also extremely labor intensive if it is to be successful.  The counselors have taken on responsibility for pre- and post-operative care, including the long period of catheterization following surgery. As the coordinating counselor notes in her report for February:
"Most of the patients are girls and women in their early twenties and early thirties. They have been selected from a very long waiting list. The process of accompanying these patients has one of the most difficult challenges faced by the counselors for the past year. This is because most of patients suffer from various psychological problems, including severe depression and feelings of fear resulting from social isolation and stigmatizing."
"The counselors have been able to create a friendly atmosphere to gain the trust of the patients first, and then to provide psychological counseling through several stages until they were able to break through the barriers traumatized patients had created for themselves. Those who have benefited from surgical treatment—accompanied by psychological counseling—have left audio-recorded testimonials and hand-written letters expressing their gratitude, happiness and sense of joy after relief from pain."

[A partial gathering of such testimonials, translated by Gaffar, can be found here—ER]

Fistula Patients

There are presently 123 girls and women on the waiting list, 34 of whom are considered by the counselors to be in critical condition. Only one surgical repair could be funded by our project in February.

Psychosocial Counseling

The greatest successes of the counselors as a group lies in providing extensive psychosocial counseling to traumatized victims of extreme sexual violence. Th activities for February—continuing the successes of previous months—ares ummarized by the coordinating counselor as follows:
• Individual counseling sessions: 86
• Group counseling sessions: 23
• First time patients: 11
• Patients who have had more than one counseling session: 25
• Patients who have had more than two counseling sessions: 17
• Total: 109
The number of girls and women assisted is now well over 3,000 and promises to grow considerably, given the catalytic effect of Team Zamzam. The coordinating counselor notes:
"Women and girls(girls especially) who have benefited from psychological counseling have now become an essential cohort of volunteers assisting Team Zamzam. Thanks to their assistance, our approach to new victims has become a lot easier. The volunteer group—which was established by Team Zamzam team as a group in the middle of last year (2021)—is now made up of more than 150 volunteers, most of whom are themselves victims of sexual violence—and this number is growing."
The importance of this catalytic effect for morale within the camp can hardly be overstated.
Team Zamzam also continues to provide feminine hygiene care to some of the many fistula victims:
 • Number of hygiene kits:  36
• Contents: Toothpaste, shaving cream, razor bundles,  body cream, and menstruation cotton
• Cost per box: $8.98
• Total number of beneficiaries: 36
Various medicines, including antibiotics, have also been provided to a number of individuals.

Project Budget (February 2022)

$2,200 – salaries for 19 counselors and 2 security/transportation personnel
  $400 – one fistula surgery at El Fashersurgical clinic
$1,400 – food, sanitizing products, medicines, feminine hygiene packages (all distributed by the staff ofTeam Zamzam)

• $4,000 – total


Urgent Funding Needs

The capacity of the Team Zamzam project is now constrained by a sharply reduced budget (see above). In all of February, funding was available for only one patient in need of fistula surgery. Again, the waiting list is 123, with 34 of these judged to be in “critical” condition by the now highly experienced team of those on Team Zamzam most responsible for fistula care. Ideally, we would be able to fund at least three or four fistula surgeries per month. More food and sanitizing supplies are also urgently needed
Any assistance will be greatly appreciated by Team Zamzam, and by the girls and women whose suffering they seek to alleviate.
Those wishing to assist in funding the work of Team Zamzam may send a check directly to Eric (Eric Reeves, 31 Franklin St.,Northampton, MA 01060) or purchase one of his woodturnings:

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

While not tax-deductible, a contribution should bemade with the knowledge that our project operates with truly extraordinary efficiency, in ways matched by no humanitarian organization operating in Darfur hat I am aware of, a region I have been researching for two decades. There is absolutely no overhead for this project.
Previous updates are archived at:
A “You Tube” video of Eric describing the project can be foundat: