Sudan

Frontline Diary

15 November 2004 - Darfur’s children say: “Please don’t forget us”

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© UNICEF Darfur/2004/Geary
UNICEF Child Protection Officer Kristen Geary with some of Darfur’s children
By Kristen Geary

The following Frontline Diary entry by UNICEF Child Protection Officer Kristen Geary is based on the four months she spent with children in Darfur, and gives her view of the situation there.

EL FASHIR, Darfur region, 15 November 2004 – There is saying in Darfur: “The solution to the crisis requires 3 things: security, security, and more security.”

Having been in El Fashir for the last four months, I wholeheartedly agree. One hundred per cent of the time, when I ask a displaced person if they would like to return home, they say “yes.” One hundred per cent of the time, when I ask a displaced person what they need in order to return home, they say “security and protection.”

UNICEF Image
© UNICEF Darfur/2004/Geary
Darfur’s children say: “There is a camp in Fata Borno – we are here, please do not forget us.”
All in all, I have to say the most profound conversations I have had are with the children of Darfur. In Fata Borno camp, I asked the children “If you had a million dinars, what would you do with it?” They all answer, “Buy food” – an uncomplicated, unselfish and very basic need.

I ask, “What do you think are the solutions to the problems in Darfur?”  They say, “Collect and take away all of the guns.” Finally, I ask, “If I could deliver to the world a message from you, what would it be?” They say, “There is a camp in Fata Borno – we are here, please do not forget us.”

The children are still in that camp in Fata Borno, and thousands more are in camps or settlements all over Darfur and Chad. Children make up more than fifty percent of Sudan’s total population. It is the children who are made to suffer the devastating consequences of the problems caused by adults.

UNICEF Image
© UNICEF Darfur/2004/Geary
Children play games in the sand
As a child protection officer for UNICEF, looking out for the rights of all children is a labour of love. In North Darfur, we have begun recreational and psychosocial activities for more than 22,000 children. But even before the footballs, skipping ropes, and volleyballs arrived, I saw children playing in their camps all the time.

They use their shoes to draw designs in the sand and play games with soda bottle tops. They make car toys out of tin cans, sew brilliant handicrafts with local materials, and skip with rope used to steer horses. Children inherently know how to play – it is their best means of coping, to return to things familiar, and reconnect to peers and family.

There is an incredible amount of work to do in Darfur. In the meantime, I also aim to amplify the voice of the displaced people to the Government of Sudan and to the international community. The world knows that the situation in Darfur is very, very grim. I think what the world may not know is that the situation will be even more fragile and quite possibly worse a year from now.

The vast majority of the displaced people are farmers and agriculturists. Because they have fled their villages due to brutal attacks, these 1.2 million people have not planted any seeds at all this year. This means that over a million displaced people will be without normal sources of food this coming year – and also that the people of the host communities (where the displaced people have taken refuge, for example EL Fashir) are facing severe food insecurity as well. The people of the host communities rely heavily on the village farmers for vegetables, grains, and fruit. At this time next year – where will the food come from for all of Darfur?

The solution is known – security, security, and more security. Time is ticking. Listen to the children and take away the guns; listen to the women and release loved ones back to their families.

In Sudan, every interaction begins and ends with “a salaam alekum.” Translated, this literally means “peace be upon you.” I have heard this from the mouths of soldiers, police, and everyone in between. Let us mean what we say. Let us all be active in bringing peace to Sudan.


 

 

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15 November 2004: UNICEF Child Protection Officer Kristen Geary talks about fears and concerns facing Darfur's women and children

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