|© UNICEF USA/2004/Thomas|
|Julianna Lindsey of UNICEF's Humanitarian Response Unit.|
Julianna Lindsey, of UNICEF’s Humanitarian Response Unit, is travelling through Sudan’s Darfur region. The unit she works for helps organize UNICEF’s activities in emergency areas. Here’s the first of her diary entries giving her personal view on what is happening there.
DARFUR, 15 May 2004— I’ve come out to Darfur to visit our three field offices in Nyala, Geneina, and El Fasher. National and international staffers have been doing an amazing job over the last few months, working seven days a week and always more than eight hours a day to organize deliveries of essential drugs and water supplies, create simple new school buildings, and help train teachers on how to deal with traumatized children. There’s still a long way to go, because thousands of displaced people don’t yet have the most basic services - health care, schooling, or even a plastic sheet as a roof over their heads.
We took a long field trip today to visit three villages where people who had to flee their homes have settled. The first camp, Kalma, was created by the government and is about 14 km outside of Nyala city. The people have been there for a few months already but they have only been able to build very basic shelters out of straw. A few people received bright blue plastic sheets that they drape over their huts – but we didn’t have enough to distribute to everyone.
We’re really worried about the rains coming in a few weeks. The people are literally living under straw mats that will never protect them from the rain. I have visions of people sitting in pools of water with the rain pouring over them in the middle of the night.
One of the positive things in Kalma camp was the school that UNICEF has helped the community construct. There are around 2000 children in the 12 classrooms, but most are in the first grade because they’ve never been able to go to school before. The silver lining in their terrible experiences of the last few months is that thousands of children are getting the chance to read and write for the very first time!
In the afternoon, we drove further north of Nyala to Mershing and Manawashi, two villages that are sheltering large groups of displaced people. In Mershing, we stopped to talk to a young girl, Suda, who is 15 years old. We found her drawing water at a handpump that government technicians had just finished installing. UNICEF supplies the drilling rig and other equipment to sink the borehole and install the handpump. Suda told us she had fled her village two months ago when it was attacked by the Janjaweed. She has two sisters but her father was killed during the attack.
In another part of Mershing, we talked to a group of women who were mourning the loss of an elderly man. He had been severely wounded when their village, Mugbula, was attacked and had just died of his wounds. His wife is quite ill and unable to care for their eight children. The women were eager to tell their story of an attack on their village by airplanes, men on horses and camels, and trucks – just like the reports I had read before travelling to Darfur.
Finally, we drove to Manawashi, where we saw a drilling rig working on a new borehole. UNICEF has worked with the government to organize a huge campaign to drill new boreholes in locations where displaced people have settled, and also to rehabilitate hundreds of handpumps that need only small repairs to work again. I talked to Jaafer, an engineer who had been sent from Kosti, hundreds of miles to the east on the Nile River, to work on the water campaign. He wasn’t sure how long he’d be in Darfur but said he was happy to do his part to help the people who had suffered.
Tomorrow, we fly to Geneina, on the Chad border. I’m curious to see if people there will have different needs from the people in Nyala.