In August 2004, Asha Hasaballah was one of 500,000 people who received care from Christian World Service partners at displaced persons camps in Darfur, western Sudan. Her village had been destroyed by government-backed militias.
During their rampages the militias demolished homes and water supplies, smashed personal belongings, burnt crops, killed livestock, and terrorised civilians. They murdered people, abducted children and raped women. People fled for their lives, seeking shelter, food and water.
Asha’s anguished observation of her fate sum up the horror that more than 4 million Darfurians have endured. "This is not what life was supposed to be," she says. Her one hope is that some day her grandchildren will be able to return to a life on their ancestors’ land, rather than in a camp for displaced people. Four years on that remains an unfulfilled dream.
Darfur’s future remains uncertain. The conflict over land, resources and ethnicity is unresolved, and violence continues. 2.5 million people, more than a third of the region’s population, are living in refugee camps. 250,000 Darfurians have been forced from their homes in the last year alone. 450,000 people have died from violence, disease or starvation since the conflict began in 2003 and 4 million are now dependent on food aid. The United Nations estimates that 100,000 civilians would die every month if humanitarian aid was stopped.
CWS has joined with Caritas Aotearoa to launch a joint appeal for Darfur. With the theme ‘Let’s walk together’, CWS and Caritas are highlighting the plight of people in Darfur and calling for support, solidarity and prayer. In Darfur, CWS partners through ACT International are working with Caritas Internationalis. New Zealanders are asked to give generously to this programme.
The ACT-Caritas response is one of the largest relief responses in the region. It has changed to meet the needs created by a complex emergency. At times workers have been threatened, even killed, but the commitment remains strong. In 2008, hundreds of thousands of people will benefit from water and sanitation systems in the camps, food programmes, medical assistance, agricultural development, school support, counselling and peace building work.
"Many people have been affected by the conflict and the rate of trauma is very high," explains Adam Ateem, a manager of peace building programmes. "There is much value in group counselling, which brings people together to share experiences as well as hopes for the future." The healing will be a long and complex process, but ACT-Caritas sees it as central to the life saving aid being given.
They are also working to give people in the camps the skills to manage their own programmes and rebuild their communities. Volunteers are being trained as medical assistants. Others help build latrines. Teachers work in the schools. Training for young people is a main focus for 2008.
"Having spent their adolescence in camps, these young people are approaching adulthood without hope, without a good education", says Adam. "In a camp environment, youth have lots of energy but nothing to do, which creates the potential for them to become involved in the conflict."
ACT-Caritas training programmes occupy young people in the camps and give them the skills to move forward once the conflict ends.
While the continuing conflict makes life difficult, Darfurians are grateful for the assistance they receive. Please support the CWS-Caritas Darfur Appeal so this work can continue.
See www.cws.org.nz for a backgrounder on the conflict and relief programme and for worship resources. You can donate online, phone 0800 74 73 72, post a cheque to PO Box 22652, Christchurch or give to a collection in your parish.