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UNICEF Sudan Representative sees hopeful opportunities amid chaos in Darfur

© UNICEF video
UNICEF Representative in Sudan Ted Chaiban speaks with community members in rebel-controlled Jabal Mara, south Darfur.

By Amy Bennett

NEW YORK, USA, 14 March 2007 – UNICEF Representative in Sudan Ted Chaiban recently returned from that country’s Darfur region, where he saw firsthand the realities in the camps for displaced children and families who cannot return to their homes because of the violent conflict that continues there.

Mr. Chaiban reported that he saw camps filled to capacity with between 50,000 and 100,000 people. The challenge now is to find other locations for additional displaced people who will need shelter, food and water, and basic medical treatment, he said.

“The solution is for the peace process to get back on track,” noted Mr. Chaiban. “The UN and the African Union have joined forces, and together they’re re-engaging with the parties to find a political solution. It’s absolutely critical that this happens now because we simply cannot absorb any more displaced.”

Challenges for humanitarian workers

“It’s been very difficult for humanitarian workers in Darfur,” Mr. Chaiban continued. “I think we should be very proud that we’ve held the line, that we’ve kept malnutrition levels down and mortality levels down, that we’ve been able to vaccinate so many children and that we’ve been able to get children in to school in the camps.”

Humanitarian work has been stopped in some camps recently due to security concerns. Mr. Chaiban pointed out that people in camps live in fear, especially at night, and spend their days engaged in basic survival activities: collecting water, gathering wood, and trying to keep their families together.

But as the camps become more settled, people don’t want to feel disempowered; they want to be able to better their lives and the lives of their children. And this too, is a challenge.

© UNICEF video
Children in Darfur line up to greet UNICEF officials visiting their camp.

Keeping up with children’s education

The idea of schooling for children in the camps may seem like a luxury in a situation where food, water and shelter are hard to come by. But for young people displaced in Darfur, UNICEF is trying to turn a tragedy into an opportunity.

“There are more children in school now than ever before” – even more than in the period before the conflict – said Mr. Chaiban.

Through the efforts of UNICEF and its partners, many of these children are finishing eighth grade, the last year of their primary education. They attend basic schools made of thatch around a steel frame, but they are schools that work. Many children are now looking forward to taking their exams for secondary school.

Unique opportunity for Southern Sudan

While Darfur is the story in the headlines, and while the conflict and the camps remain the paramount issues, there are positive developments in Southern Sudan that should not go unrecognized, according to Mr. Chaiban. These developments have followed the January 2005 peace agreement between the north and south of Sudan that officially put an end to what had been Africa’s longest civil war, lasting more than two decades.

“One of the most beautiful things I’ve seen,” he said, “is a displaced family coming back from their displacement in the north of Sudan. When they arrive, they have their belongings on their back, and it’s like having a family reunion. It’s a beautiful sight. And that’s an opportunity arising out of the peace process – and we’re part of that story.

“We have a once-in-a-generation opportunity for people who’ve been in conflict for 20 years and have been in underdevelopment for 50 years, to say, hey, enough is enough. We’re going to move forward for a better future.”




13 March 2007:
UNICEF Representative in Sudan Ted Chaiban discusses his recent visit to the camps for the displaced in Darfur. UNICEF correspondent Amy Bennett reports.
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