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Frontline Diary

24 May 2004: Countdown to planting time

© UNICEF Sudan/2004/Claycomb
Paula Claycomb, Communication Officer with UNICEF Sudan

Paula Claycomb, UNICEF’s 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.

DARFUR, 24 May 2004—A blisteringly hot Sunday in a small town in South Darfur, Sudan. I want to let you know that the final countdown has begun.  It’s less than three weeks to the end of planting time in this region, and for the 700,000 displaced people in this dry part of Sudan their fields will neither be ploughed nor planted this year.  For the past two days I’ve been visiting camps and places where displaced people, mostly women and children, have been living since they were forced from their homes. They are living in appalling conditions and the general fear is that they may be forced to stay in the places where they have gathered for at least the next 15 months.

© UNICEF Sudan/2004/Claycomb
Fatma with her brother at the Kalma camp in South Darfur

I visited Kalma camp yesterday afternoon and talked to a little girl, twelve-year-old Fatma and her friend Nemat. They came with their three brothers and mother from their village, where three months ago people set fire to their homes at about 5pm in the afternoon. When they saw the fire they ran away toward a neighbouring village and spent the night there with members of another tribe.  They then took their donkeys from the nearby market place and fled, eventually travelling by lorry to Nyala.  From there they came to Kalma where they have set up camp with some thirty thousand people. They arrived at sunset, came to an empty hut, slept there and settled down.  That’s where they’ve been ever since.

Fatma’s voice was a monotone as I listened to her patiently answer my questions. It was only when she started talking about school that she grew animated.  For the first time she was able to attend school in temporary classrooms that have been set up with UNICEF assistance.  She said she’d like to be a nurse or maybe a teacher when she grows up.  She especially likes working with young children, she said. 

After visiting family after family, camp after camp, school after school, it’s hard not to be pessimistic about the conditions they are living in, the malnutrition that we’re seeing - especially in the young children whose mothers have no milk to give them, whose breast-milk has dried up – but I’m struck by the incredible resilience of the people.  Children, as well as the adults, are only too ready to smile.  They want to share their stories.  They also want to play.  They are delighted when I start running at them as if I were a monster.  They run from me and then creep back, ready for me to whirl round and leap at the next unsuspecting child.  It becomes quite a game and the adults enjoy it as much as the children.



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