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A UNICEF staff member in Sudan recalls a night caught in fierce fighting

UNICEF commemorates World Humanitarian Day by recognizing all humanitarians who have lost their lives in the course of their work, and those who continue to serve.

KADUGLI, Sudan, 21 May 2013 – I’m a Sudanese national working with UNICEF Sudan as a child protection officer in Kadugli Zone Office.

On 6 June 2011, I returned home after a long working day just as fierce fighting and shelling overtook Kadugli, the capital of South Kordofan state. Shells rained down, largely focused on our residential areas. At 8 p.m, members of neighbouring households poured into our house looking for refuge – only to find its three occupants lying under their beds for safety. Suddenly I was called by an American colleague of mine who used to work for an international NGO to join him in his house in the centre of the town, advising me that fighting around his place was sporadic and light.

© UNICEF/NYHQ2009-1489/Holt
Children attend a community meeting in El Khatmia Village in Sudan's Gadaref state.

Kadugli under fire

At 9 p.m. a young man rushed into our chaotic home and instructed everyone to vacate immediately, as the place was becoming a target. My two colleagues and the rest of the guests ran to the police hospital in the centre of town. I decided to join NGO colleagues some 800 metres away, as there was no way to reach the UNICEF compound or any other UN agency premises - some colleagues were trapped in the office and calling for help. I took my radio handset and sneaked my way to the city centre where the NGO guesthouse was. As I did, I could hear a colleague calling for assistance on the radio - but nobody, including me, could help.

As I carried on, a teenager who was cycling home was shot and fell, yelling. I joined two passers-by to carry him to a nearby government house, unable to get him to the hospital. Finally I reached my destination safely, after being stopped at checkpoints five times in less than 200 metres; it seemed my radio handset bore a resemblance to a hand grenade.

Thirty minutes later, my cell phone rang, peeb, peeb.

“Hello who is this?” I ask.

“This is Natalie from Melbourne, Australia. Mohamed, I hope you are OK and safe.”

“Nats, I’m fine. What are you hearing?”


© UNICEF/NYHQ2009-1476/Holt
A father holds his daughter, 18 months old, in Kassala state, Sudan.

“Yah this is Kadugli under fire.”

‘UNICEF family’

Natalie is a former colleague of mine; we worked as a child protection team in Kadugli for two years until 2009. She kept calling me that night every hour until the next day. Despite the uncertain situation, I felt really proud to be a member of the UNICEF family stretching from Melbourne to Kadugli and enjoyed the sense of humanity and caring for each other.

The head of the UNICEF office was relocated to the UN Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) base some 17 kilometres north of the town. She was worried too, trying to locate members of her team by radio alone.

“Please do not move unless instructed. Confirm,” she announced over the radio.

“Confirm, yes, confirm. Out.”

The next day at 1 p.m., we had all been relocated to the UNMIS base. Along the 17 kilometres distance I had seen women, elderly persons and children walking on the sides of the road, taking rest under trees for a while, evacuating the town. I saw women trailing children, children carrying their siblings and a man carrying his ailing mother on his back. This miserable panorama reminded me of the unaccompanied children I work with who are living and working in the streets of Kadugli. They are utterly without protection or even guidance or advice about such a dangerous situation as the fighting that had taken all of us by surprise.

“A noble job”

After reaching the UNMIS base, I went out with two colleagues to get an impression of the displacements and the horror that children were facing, and to prepare for a possible response.

“Eh, here is Peter; how you are my child? Where are the rest - Koko, Ramadan ...?”

“I do not know,” said Peter. “They ran away. Where is Huda? I’m very hungry.”

“I’m going to look for her and for food,” I promise.

At that moment, apart from the age difference, I looked no different from Peter, as I had worn one set of clothes for the last three days. I borrowed money for survival from a colleague, as all my belongings at my residence had gone for ever.

Peter is a smart 9-year-old child who cannot even identify a single member of his family. Huda is a case worker and a social welfare focal point. When I phoned her, she told me that she was putting her 36 family members in a single pickup truck and getting away.

So I tried my best to be the guardian of Peter and look for his missing mates. But that didn't work either, because the next day I was asked to relocate to Khartoum - leaving behind Peter and his friends to their totally unsafe and miserable environment.

Working with children - and particularly the vulnerable ones - is a noble job. Wherever I go, my eyes see only the vulnerable children who are in need of support.



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