My Sister & the Humanitarian Crisis in SudanMarch 2, 2012
Today, I am pleased to feature a guest post written by my sister, who has a Masters in Public Health from the prestigious London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. This, apparently, qualifies her to live in thatch huts, contract malaria semi-regularly, and kill snakes in her bedroom.
My sister has spent the past two months working in Yida, a refugee camp in South Sudan where tens of thousands of Nuban people have sought refuge from the atrocities being committed by Sudanese government forces. The situation is grim. The Nuban people are the victims of state-sanctioned ethnic cleansing. Close to half a million have been displaced. Many are on the verge of starvation.
My sister’s small team has been working to provide the Yida community with food, healthcare and other essential services, like water and sanitation. [For security reasons, I won’t mention her name or the organization with which she works.] My sister’s focus is on maternal and child health, particularly nutrition.
Also, my sister is my hero. I can think of no truer expression of the Kingdom mission than the work that she is doing. She binds up the broken, feeds the hungry, and (as you’re about to read) is risking her life to rescue the oppressed.
Here is her story:
I live and work in the Yida refugee camp, located a few miles south of the border between Sudan and the world’s newest nation, South Sudan.
I received a phone call from human resources about an hour after accepting the position. “I’m just calling to tell you that I am taking out a war insurance policy in your name,” she said.
“Okay,” I replied.
There was a pause on the other end of the line.
“I just want to make sure you know what you’re getting yourself into,” she said.
“I do,” I reassured her.
But I didn’t.
Yesterday morning I was awakened by the sound of explosions. Another battle had broken out in a town along the border. The shelling and bombing lasted for hours.
This morning we were all at the food distribution site when an Antonov bomber appeared, circling low above the camp. They fly over all the time and no one bats an eyelash, but this time something was different. Everyone started running for cover, sure that the plane was going to bomb us. As a large group of people, we were a clear target. We all hit the dirt until the plane left (my foxhole of choice was a partially-dug latrine), then jumped in our pickup and raced back to the compound.
Then the bombing began. It wasn’t in the camp, but it was close enough to make the ground shake and send everyone rushing for cover. Suddenly the Antonov was back again, right above us. I sat cowering in my foxhole, looking straight up at the belly of an Antonov bomber as it droned slowly over our camp. We sat, deathly quiet, waiting to see if a bomb would fall. I kept saying to myself, “You are going to be bombed. It is going to be okay.” And I prayed a lot, “God, please protect our camp!”
After repeated low altitude passes over the camp, the Antonov disappeared. We weren’t bombed. Two months before my arrival, the camp wasn’t so lucky. A UNHCR report describes that incident:
…[O]n November 10, another Antonov bomber came. The plane made three turns around Yida before it released its payload. People scattered in every direction. Two of the bombs landed on the runway next to the camp’s perimetre. Two others fell further away. But one bomb landed in the middle of a temporary school. The children had been evacuated but Zahara remembers the fear everyone shared. “People ran into the market and into the forest,” she says. “Some of us stayed in the bush for hours.” In fact some 600 pupils and students ran away after the bombing and some are still missing.
I have never experienced war. Conflict has always been an ocean away, not right above me. I didn’t know what I was getting into, because I’ve no experience with the kind of hatred and greed that prompts one group to try to destroy another. But this is what is happening in Sudan.
During the protracted Sudanese civil war, the people of Nuba sided with the south. However, when the nation split in two last summer, the Nuba found themselves part of the north and the target of a relentless military campaign. The government of Sudan claims that they are supressing a rebellion in the states of South Kordofan and Blue Nile, but the indiscriminate arial bombardments and militia style ground attacks have brutalized the civilian population, reducing the people to living in caves in the mountains and forcing hundreds of thousands to flee to safety in refugee camps in South Sudan — camps like Yida.
But these camps are not safe. There are over 28,000 people registered in the camp and many more unregistered. Due in part to our proximity to the border, we have not been classified as a “refugee camp”. Instead, the UN considers this a “transit site”. This means that even though people have been living here for months, they have never been given a full food ration. A family might receive one or two weeks worth of food and nothing more within a calendar month. Malnutrition rates are alarming. Relief agencies are prohibited from doing anything “permanent” like constructing buildings or assisting in organizing schooling for the children. This is incredibly frustrating for the people in the camp. Additionally, the government of Sudan has proved willing to follow the people of Nuba into South Sudan. Our camp was bombed three months ago, and this morning everyone thought we were being attacked again. It was terrifying, and sadly, for the people of Nuba, it is old hat.
If you have followed the situation in Sudan at all over the last few years you will remember the crisis in Darfur. The actions of Omar al-Bashir (the president of Sudan) during this conflict earned him a warrant for his arrest from the International Criminal Court on counts of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide. He has never been prosecuted, of course, and many say that the crisis in Nuba is tragically reminiscent of Darfur. Bashir and his government are doing the same thing all over again, and any and all alarm bells being rung by watchful observers in the international community are being ignored.
When US Congressman Frank Wolf visited the camp several weeks ago he was greeted by a crowd of Nubans, some of whom held homemade signs pleading for people like Obama and Ban Ki-moon to pay attention and protect their rights.
This blog post is my handmade sign. Please pay attention to Nuba. Please pay attention to the actions of the government of Khartoum. I’m no military strategist or humanitarian expert, but there are people with the knowledge and power to intervene wisely in this situation. You can let them know that they themselves need to pay attention.
We were so thankful to have Nicholas Kristof (co-author of Half the Sky) and Ann Curry of the Today Show (NBC) with us in Yida. Watch their stories and learn. And then act. All it takes is a letter or a phone call to your MP, congressman or senator. If we can rally the political will, action will come.
A preview of Curry’s piece is here:
For Curry’s full report, follow this link to her February 29th segment on Rock Center with Brian Williams.
Kristof’s excellent piece is here [you’ll have to click through to Youtube]:
You can also follow this link to listen to Halima Kaga, a 32-year old Nuban woman living in the Yida refugee camp, describe her experiences and plead for justice.
It’s easy to feel utterly helpless when watching an international crisis unfold on the opposite side of the globe. I have sat on my hands more times than I care to admit. But my sister is right. We can do something. The story of the Nuba people and this growing humanitarian disaster is largely unknown. Please help get the word out. Reblog it. Tweet it. Learn more about the conflict. Phone or write your elected officials [for Canada, click here; for the US, click here]. Urge them to pressure the international community to intervene before the story of the Nuba becomes the unthinkable sequel to Darfur.
And to my sister. Thank you for sharing this. May God indeed protect your camp.
and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,
then your light will rise in the darkness,
and your night will become like the noonday.