[The current update covers only the period May 1 – May 15, 2022]
The news from Zamzam camp is encouraging in some respects, but deeply frightening in others. Violence, including terrible sexual violence, continues to define life outside Zamzam and in much of North Darfur. Recent news reporting has focused on the violence in West Darfur, especially the capital area of El Geneina. But in more remote—at least for journalists—locations, terrible violence by marauding Arab militias continues unabated. Most consequentially, this violence has put the current agricultural season in grave doubt. As the coordinating counsellor for Team Zamzam explains in her comprehensive report, people in Zamzam are simply too fearful to venture out of the camp to their own farms or to the farms on which they have traditionally worked. This augurs a disastrous harvest next fall and massive hunger.
In a signally ominous development, sexual violence is moving closer to Zamzam. On May 9, five girls gathering firewood were assaulted less than two miles outside the camp. The coordinating counsellor provides a harrowing account of the attack, the aftermath, and Team Zamzam’s immediate efforts to assist the victims:
Dramatic increase in sexual violence in recent months
"With the increasing frequency of violence against civilians in most parts of Darfur over the past two years, sexual violence has been a central part of these events. On May 9 five young girls from Zamzam camp were gang-raped on the outskirts of Zamzam camp. This has shocked the inhabitants of Zamzam once again. The girls were raped just three kilometres to the southeast of the camp by an armed militia gang. The five girls went out together from Zamzam to fetch firewood, but on their way back they were attacked by six armed men whose faces were completely masked.
"The five girls were threatened at gunpoint with weapons, and while the criminals were beginning to commit heinous sexual acts, one of the girls managed escape to the camp to report what had occurred. After reporting, a group of the five girls' families with other people immediately rushed to the scene hoping to rescue the girls—but it was too late. The four victims were found at crime scene, bleeding, shaking, shivering from terror—crying from humiliation. Their families were aghast and immediately transported them to El Fasher for medical treatment.
"From the scene of the incident, the perpetrators’ footprints were traced to the nearby village of Haila Arab Al Bashir. The Sheik of the village came out to promise the victim's families that the accused perpetrators would be handed over to the authorities within 24 hours. The local police of the area were also informed immediately and urged to take this incident seriously. Unfortunately, as usual, very little has been done so far."
There is good news to report, albeit news tempered by the terrible realities of ongoing violence. Eric has provided funding for a special project in Zamzam—the repair of a critical water pump in Section D of Zamzam. The coordinating counsellor again provides a summary:
Repair of water pump provides huge relief and immense joy for thousands of families in D section of Zamzam camp
"After several field visits in neighbourhoods, inspections of variously located water pumps, and a comprehensive survey of people's opinions about the current water crisis, we have decided to repair one of the broken pumps located in Section D. After an extensive effort to engage the local population in teamwork, alongside local social activists and volunteers, we managed to find a local engineer with great experience in repairing pumps, and he agreed to repair the pump at a reasonable price.
"The engineer with his team of five assistants began their work first by dismantling the entire pump, then afterwards removing all the broken iron pressure pipes and pieces; this was followed by a thorough cleaning and replacement of broken parts with new ones. Finally, after days of work, the pump was fully repaired and the neighbouring women ululated to express their relief and happiness. This good news about the pump was instantly brought hundreds of families to the scene, especially women with their children carrying water gallon jugs. Some of the women brought hot beverages (tea and coffee) as gestures of thanks to Team Zamzam.
"This good news has not only brought an immense happiness for many inhabitants of Section D in Zamzam, but has also alleviated the prolonged suffering of thousands of women who walked every day, in the hottest temperatures, for a gallon of water. And the joy of the day was evident from several testimonies taken during the opening ceremony from several women who flocked to the scene with their children, celebrating the final repair of their beloved water pump, which had been out of service since 2019.
"Emotionally moving testimonials about the repaired water pump from the residents of Section D:
Khadija Abkar, a 43-year-old woman, said: "This is a historic day for us in the neighbourhood and for our children, who have been suffering every day from the water crisis for years." Khadija continues: “You people have brought us joy and some of us nearly shed tears from the intensity of such joys; but I can tell you that the words of thanks and appreciation alone are not enough for what you have done here, and we wish that God will compensate you in the balance of your life of good deeds.”
Husnia Suleiman Ghani, 58-years-old and blind, said: “My daughters referred me to the Team Zamzam counsellors, and I came here to praise and salute your amazing humanitarian efforts." She continued: "Water has been a big problem here for many years, as you know. I don't see because I'm blind, but I feel the suffering of people every day and I also heard so much about what you have been doing for this camp. May God bless you and your families for bringing us lively hopes."
Adam Al Dhai, 29 years old, local activist, local school teacher, vice president of neighbourhood committee of Section D, and volunteer said: "In the beginning, on behalf of the residents of this Section D and its thirteenth neighbourhood, I extend my thanks and appreciation to Team Zamzam for their remarkable efforts in doing what you have over the past two years, from providing basic necessities to vulnerable people and now repairing our water pump."
Adam continued: "But I would also like to extend my appreciation by paying a special tribute to the defenders of our people in faraway countries. He concluded saying: ‘Thank you Professor Eric Reeves and your fellow team members for your tireless efforts. and thank you for remaining true to the people of Zamzam.’"
The accomplishments of Team Zamzam for the first half of May are again truly impressive, even if I convey here only partially the catalytic effects the Team has had on the camp as a whole. One particularly notable achievement has been the incorporation of boys and men into the Team:
"The project continues to raise awareness among the male population in the camp, and one of the most important fruits of this effort is that now, for the first time, we have more than five young male volunteers working side by side with the girls in perfect harmony and understanding. These young men participate in educational activities, raising awareness, and providing critical labor in the distribution of food. They also provide entertaining comedies in open spaces!"
"We see this as one of our most positive achievements, one of which we are very proud and which we celebrate. Because of this project, the attitude of men toward women is gradually changing for the better. Elsewhere in Darfur, attitudes remain much the same. Our own achievement came in the face of stiff resistance, but awareness is growing. We joined with other women’s committees first established with the help of Team Zamzam's counsellors. "
"In the meantime, those few male youths who are volunteering alongside their female peers love the idea of getting involved and engaging in changing in profound ways the backward attitudes of a society which is still held hostage by traditional narratives of the relationships between men and women. One of the volunteering men said that he regretted not becoming involved as early as possible, while another said: "What we need in this country is not to fight against each for material things but to fight for the rights of our mothers and sisters to have their voices heard equally.”
"Although these positive signs are immensely encouraging for us, the overall mentality still remains largely misogynistic; in order to change such attitudes and perceptions, we must spread our ideas within every corner…starting from here. To conclude, one must say that the course of history for changing societies always requires good ideas; we have found ourselves on a long road to reach our ideals, but we will not give up or compromise as long as we have our supporters from outside Darfur.
"These changes in male attitudes towards girls and women are essential if Darfur is ever to become whole again."
Other notable achievements by Team Zamzam include assisting in the successful fistula surgery for a woman who had lived in excruciating pain:
Testimonial from Fistula patient
Rania Bahr El-Din Idris, 26 years old, lives in Zamzam:
“I'm so happy that I can't even describe how I feel inside myself. 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 that I used to enjoy doing.
“Before my illness, I used to enjoy cooking a lot, going out with friends to fetch things from the market, and making handmade men's hats to earn little income. But the fistula stopped me from doing this for years. It was very painful, you know...it's a pain that one wouldn't wish on one’s 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."
The Team also accomplished the following:
Providing a memorable and happy Eid for many impoverished families
"Eid in Sudan, especially Eid Ramadan, offers very tasty flavours for children. It’s an occasion on which children go around visiting entire neighbourhoods, house by house, to get treats of sweets and homemade cookies. Sudan is one of the few countries that pays great attention to Eid and celebrates the feast for three consecutive days; so when Eid approaches, people’s desire for goods such as flour and sugar rises greatly.
"For this reason Team Zamzam purchased flour and sugar to be distributed to the very poorest families. A total of 1850-kg sacks of flour and 13 50-kg sacks of sugar were purchased and distributed as follows:
83 families in Zamzam section A
71 families in Zamzam section B
84 families in Zamzam section C
67 families in Zamzam section D
"The total number of families assisted was 305
Other achievements of Team Zamzam:
12 hygiene kits were distributed to girls; each package contains: 2 tubes of toothpaste, 2 dozen shaving razors; 2 tubes of shaving cream;1 tube of body cream; 2 toothbrushes; and1package containing a dozen cotton pads being distributed per girl.
Additionally, 82 bars of hand washing soap were provided to 41 families
Other work carried out during May 2022 (through May 15)
A total of 14 accompanying visits to various hospitals;
A total of 38 adult patients and 6 children all complaining of various illnesses were accompanied to different hospitals in El Fasher for treatment;
A total of 13 pregnant women were accompanied to obstetrics and gynaecology wards in El Fasher for medical consultation;
A total of 16 visits were carried out in nine neighbourhoods to inspect sanitary conditions, water shortages, and other issues concerning the welfare of camp inhabitants;
1 fistula patient was accompanied to the hospital for treatment;
A total of three meetings were held with the representatives of Section D—inhabitants and committees—to brief them on the progress of repair of the water pump and how to use the pump in equitable fashion.
A total 22 group counselling sessions
A total 37 individual counselling sessions
Continuing Funding Needs
The capacity of the Team Zamzam project continues to be constrained by a sharply reduced budget. For the past four months, funding has been available for only one patient per month in need of fistula surgery. The waiting list is still over 120 girls and women, more than 30 of them judged to be in “critical” condition by the now highly experienced group 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.
How to Help
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: https://www.ericreeves-woodturner.com/gallery
100% of the purchase price of every woodturning directly supports the project in Zamzam.
While not tax-deductible, a contribution should be made with the knowledge that our project 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.