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Frontline Diary

3 June 2004: A mother struggles to cope

© UNICEF/HQ04-0286/Nesbitt
UNICEF Khartoum Assistant Commmunication Officer Sandrine Martin with children in the Abu Shouk camp, El Fasher, North Darfur.
Sandrine Martin, UNICEF’s Assistant Communication Officer in Sudan, is travelling through Sudan’s Darfur region.  Here’s her diary entry giving her personal view on what is happening there.

ABU SHOUK, NORTH DARFUR, 3 June 2004 - In a model camp like Abu Shouk - which has been well planned and organized to host more than 30,000 displaced people relocated from El Meshtel camp - a family with 8 children must fit into a small tent 3 x 3 metres, eating and sleeping within. Above all, though, they wait. They wait for their situation to settle, for their fears of taking to the road to subside. Mainly, they wait for the moment when they can return home and resume a “normal” life. In Abu Shouk, residents are provided with safe water, proper sanitation and enough food. They also receive basic health-care. But the stories of what these people have endured in the last few months are still well alive in their minds and freely flowing from their lips.

As I was trying to catch the attention of dozens of children who had gathered around, attracted by new visitors, the car, but mostly the cameras, a tall woman with a determined look on her face spoke up and firmly asserted: “Me, I have stories to tell you. Stories about all of the women that were raped by those horsemen and all of the people they killed!”

© UNICEF/HQ04-0264/Christine Nesbitt
Sekine Youseef Mohammed Ahemd and one of her children, in the Abu Shouk camp, North Darfur.
Sekina Youssef arrived in El Meshtel camp in the first days of March, a date that is marked in her memory. It took her two days to walk with her six children to El Fasher, were she was hoping to find some rest and security. “I had to carry the two youngest girls - one on my back, another on my shoulder, and only a pot of water in my hands. For two days, we could not eat, just walk. We left the village as quickly as possible, we were so scared”.

She came to El Fasher from the town of Tawila. She recalls the attack on the village: “Men on horses and camels surrounded the village at 6 o’clock in the morning. At the time, everyone was drinking morning tea at home. I heard shots, a lot of noise, and many people shouting. When I walked out and saw them, I ran back and hid inside the house with my children. I locked every door, every window. They raped girls and they killed the old people! They killed my aunt’s son who was looking after the cattle. They looted all the cattle of the village. Even though they came on horses and camels, they still took our donkeys! We remained silent and hidden for hours. Then we just fled as quickly as possible”.

These are daily stories that people tell spontaneously to visitors. They need to speak out, to express their anger and despair: they lost everything except their lives.

Despite those horrible stories, people have found some relief in Abu Shouk camp. In a few weeks, children will resume schooling thanks to UNICEF’s help in building and equipping temporary classrooms. Children are joyful and lively, quick to laugh and play. However, what they are really eager for is to go back to school. A kind of normalcy is starting to settle in little by little. This is not meant to become a permanent settlement, but people are not yet ready to move. “We will not go back, not now. There is no security. We can be attacked at any time, raped and looted! We will stay here for awhile”, Sekina explains.

Distress remains. Her 7-month old baby is visibly malnourished. She does not have enough milk to feed her. “Please give me some milk or some cash so that I can buy milk… please, my child is so weak”.



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