Project Update, January 29, 2023: Responding to Sexual Violence in Darfur
February 7, 2023
Nancy Reeves, Editor and Funding Advisor
JulieDarcq, Online Campaign Coordinator
The coordinating counselor for Team Zamzam has produced a particularly full and revealing account not only of what the Team has accomplished in Zamzam IDP camp, but of the growing insecurity throughout Darfur. Her account begins with a truly remarkable and courageous assessment and assistance mission to a remote area of northwestern North Darfur, making clear just how great the need remains for humanitarian assistance in areas that are remote and desperately underserved.
Her account is divided into three parts and appears as an ANNEX: (1) the mission to the highly remote Umm Baro region of North Darfur; (2) the continuing ethnically-targeted violence in Darfur, most recently and intensely in the Beliel locality of South Darfur (east of Nyala); and (3), the continuing and immensely important work the Team is doing in responding to the victims of brutal sexual violence in the areas around Zamzam. Several narratives provided in her report make clear how great the need is for continuing psychosocial counseling—and, in as many cases as our funding allows, fistula surgeries for the more than 200 girls and women on the waiting list for what is often the only means to escape crushing pain and overwhelming shame.
The mission to the Umm Baro region was arduous and dangerous, even with other local workers and a truck convoy. The map below shows just how far the group of four counselors traveled on unpaved roads (more than 300 kilometers), and identifies the key locations noted in the course of their travels.
Their report makes clear just how great the suffering and deprivation is in just one of scores of terribly underserved regions throughout Darfur. This month’s budget for food and medicine was devoted to providing what could be afforded and carried to the Uru area. All was received with an almost overwhelming gratitude. There is no international humanitarian presence in Uru, or so many other places in desperate need of humanitarian assistance, especially food.
The second part of the coordinating counselor’s update concerns growing violence and insecurity in Darfur, both in the area around Zamzam and the large-scale ethnic targeting of the non-Arab Dajo people in the Beliel area of South Darfur in early December 2022. Widespread killing and destruction has taken scores of lives and displaced tens of thousands of people. The violence was sanctioned by the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) of Hamdan Dagalo (Hemeti), and in some cases Hemeti’s brutal militia forces participated (there are eyewitness accounts of this as well as video recordings of men in RSF uniforms amidst the carnage). Photographs of the aftermath are included in the ANNEX and could easily be mistaken for images from the first, most violent years of the Darfur genocide. The lives of those displaced continue to be defined by a woefully inadequate humanitarian response..
Closer to Zamzam, the coordinating counselor’s report including the following all too familiar narrative:
On January 18, 2022, 23-year-old female victim Fatima Salem Noreen from Zamzam camp was gang-raped by three Janjaweed men. The incident occurred when she was on her family farm, with her 64-year-old aunt, Maryam Ahmed Al-Mughalla. They were attempting to clean the farm after the agricultural season in the Abu Daleek area.
The victim said: "At about one o'clock in the afternoon, we were in the shade of a tree for the purpose of resting and taking a nap, and suddenly three Janjaweed riding on camels attacked us, threatening us with weapons. Then they tied my aunt by her hands and feet, and then they beat her severely."
Fatima said: “After that, the three of them took turns [sexually assaulting] me and kept going until I fainted and passed out.”
While the three brutes were taking turns on Fatima, her aunt remained tied up for about three hours. Only after Fatima had gathered some strength was she able to untie her aunt and take rest. Afterwards, they decided to return to Zamzam, but they could not find the donkey because the rope had been deliberately cut with a knife and the donkey was nowhere to be seen.
For her part, the victim’s aunt said: “The Janjaweed did their heinous acts in front of my eyes and fled towards Abu Daleek.”
The passers-by who helped them to reach Zamzam said: “We found them sitting on the side of the road which heads towards El Fasher, and the older woman was suffering from exhaustion and fatigue from long walking, visible bruises on her face and hands, while the younger one was badly traumatised, physically shaking, limping and bleeding.”
Upon their arrival, they were taken to El Fasher Emergency Teaching Hospital, where they were given first aid. Fatima then returned to her family in Zamzam. Fatima is still suffering from severe depression, but after quick intervention by Team Zamzam’s counselors, her psychological state is gradually improving. Her family sends warm thanks for the help and support she received from counselors.
Accomplishments of Team Zamzam, late December – January 20, 2023
On this trip month’s assessment trip to the area north of Umm Baro, Team Zamzam counselors took with them food supplies consisting of the following:
400 kilos of sugar
150 kilos of flour
12 kilos of tea
800 bars of laundry soap
2 dozen school uniforms for children
The number of beneficiaries of the distribution:
282 families benefited
The total number of people benefiting was 814
Counseling sessions for victims of sexual violence in Zamzam:
67 individual counseling sessions
31 group counseling sessions
[For a compendium of moving testimonials from girls and women who have benefited from such counseling, as well as fistula surgeries in El Fasher, see here]
Total of 12 boxes
Benefited 12 persons
Various other activities and work:
A well, i.e., a manual water pump, has been repaired in Zamzam, Sector C. We found that they were in urgent need of water in the neighborhood, which is located next to Mustafa Elementary School. At this neighbourhood school, students and teachers all suffered from severe water shortages; but now the problem has been resolved and everyone is happy.
A total of 71 people suffering from various illnesses, including two fistula patients, were accompanied to different hospitals in El Fasher to receive necessary examinations and medical treatments.
A total of 14 different visits were undertaken within the four sectors of the camp to take notes, speak to neighbourhood representatives, and to discuss with various women’s groups their concerns and points of views.
How to Help
Any assistance will be greatly appreciated by Team Zamzam, and by the girls and women whose suffering they seek to alleviate. Distribution presently comes as many within the camp daily move closer to starvation. 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/3 organization operating in Sudan. Operation 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 more attractive.
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)