A boy called Muhammad
It was just by chance that we met Muhammad. We were at the top of a hill where a water tank is, so we could get a panoramic view of the camp. You can see that on the Day 8 video. After that, we were going “home,” since Ali, who works for CARE International, had volunteered to come out to the camp with us on his day off, and we didn’t want to abuse his generosity, but I did anyway.
Looking down from the hill I saw young boys making mud bricks. When I was a kid, for some reason I loved watching the construction workers do their jobs, especially tasks that are a process that is repeated; I found it almost hypnotizing and kind of like meditation. Well, with young children working it’s not exactly the same; other issues and emotions come up, but I was still drawn to go see them work. Here is where we met Muhammad.
Muhammad is 14 years old. He goes to school just down the hill from his home. His home is easy to find because it has a blue tarp over one of its structures. His home is a collection of huts. In one, where they sleep, they have only mats. This hut is made of mud brick walls, with a UNHCR as a roof. On the inside, you can see that Muhammad and his brothers and sisters used the UNHCR tent as a canvas, writing religious sayings and drawings of men on camels and donkeys. It is also interesting that there was a drawing of a Sudanese flag. I saw Sudanese flags in the notebooks of other children also, so they must maintain a sense of loyalty to the nation, while not liking what their leaders are doing. I’ll try to remember to ask some of them about it. More about Muhammad’s home, in another hut they have one goat; another hut is the kitchen; and in one other one they have some of their belongings. All of these huts are made of mud bricks, and there is a short mud brick fence around them.
Muhammad wants to be a teacher. Their teachers are the ones they see working the most, as far as male role models. Muhammad likes to play futbol (soccer), and he has some pretty good moves!
Muhammad is a hard worker, and this I know he learned from his mother (we’ll soon show you more about Ache, Muhammad’s mom). His father is away at the border, and we did not ask too many questions about him. I guess we should have, but I’m sometimes not sure if it’s OK or out of bounds. Many of these men have more than one wife, and they have to go from camp to camp to visit them. The different people we have talked with have told us about being separated from family, and having more than one central family must increase the chances of this.
I hope you enjoy meeting Muhammad through our videos.
You are right, asking for a safe return home for the people you are seeing is not asking for much. It is just something basic. When, as a nation, we say that we are committed to spreading freedom around the world, why would freedom not include the freedom for the people of Darfur to live a safe and dignified life in their own land?
Pam and others who asked school questions,
Since you asked, we went looking for a school. They do have schools in the camp. It is primary school, with the children divided into two grades, so there is a wide range of ages in each class. According to someone in charge of one of the zone’s schools, they do not have books or materials for secondary school. They get some materials, notebooks and pencils, from UNISEF, but not enough. They study Arabic, math, and the Koran. The children seem to be very attentive to what the teachers teach. In camp Mile at this time, some of the schools were blown away by recent high winds, so school is held under the shade of a tree or in some temporary spaces set up with straw mats for floor and walls. Not having secondary schools is a big problem. The older children, adolescents, do not have anything to do. Aid workers have told us that this has contributed to many young men going off to join the rebel forces. For the older girls, they get too working as hard as their mothers.
Bill (Pam’s husband),
Thanks for your comment and for highlighting our efforts in the Pali Post. I am taking still pictures; I hope they’re good enough for publication!
Maria from Pali High,
Thanks! Big hug to all at your school.
David and Tanya,
Thanks for getting more students involved and for all that you both have personally done for i-ACT.
I thought about you, as I was visiting with Muhammad. You are about the same age. Muhammad and his family are just like you and your family; you all love each other and want a happy, peaceful life. I hope that your generation does a lot more than we and the ones before us have done with regards to caring about humanity all over the world.
I also thought about you today because Muhammad’s brother is your age. He wants to be a teacher, but there is no school for him to ever become one, if he continues living in a camp. I really hope that soon we will be able to do another i-ACT, but one where we show the joy of a people returning home. Then you could come with me and meet Youssouf (17yrs old), but in Darfur!
Yes, the refugees do have leaders. Today we met with them. The NGO’s and the UNHCR work closely with them in making decisions about everything like food and water distribution, education, security, and other important issues. There is crime inside of the camps. The Chadian government has some gendarmes that patrol the camp. They are not armed and serve more as mediators. The NGO’s are also very involved in security. One of the major issues is gender related violence. There is high incidence of domestic violence. The main concern is violence that happens outside of the camps. The women and children are very vulnerable when they are out collecting wood, which they have to do every day. More on that to come.
Thanks for you comment; please keep them coming.
I’m so happy that you sent me your message. Andy is my nephew. Yes, it does look a little like the way indians lived in the wild-wild-west times, and it might be even closer to the way indians lived when they were sent to reservations. Thanks Andy, and say high to all your family, including little Brandon.
There are some great people doing some great work with NGO’s out here. I’ll ask around about who could handle a container with good. The people in the camps talk about not having spices, soap, and milk. They don’t have so many things! They would like to continue their way of life as much as possible, but that is not at all easy. You probably know a lot more than me about this, but the logistics of getting a container out here must be a huge challenge. There are only dirt and sand roads. We got stuck in one of them today. I’ll look into this and get back to you soon.
Good to hear from you! Thanks Tony; you have been doing a lot from the start, and your commitment to do a lot more is very much appreciated. I agree with you. It is amazing that another genocide can be taking place today, right now! What has to be different this time around is that silence and standing by will not be the response.
Thanks for your questions. Water is a big issue in this part of the world. To find it, NGO’s that specialize in water came out to this camp in particular, Mile, and dug very deep holes from which they pump water. Other camps are not that lucky; they have to truck it in. There is no real city anywhere close to these camps. There are small villages, and most of these villages have the same or bigger challenges for finding resources. The refugees eat three meals per day. Breakfast at 10am, lunch at 3pm, and dinner at 8pm. They do not have much of a variety of foods to choose from. They mainly eat millet and maybe tomatoes and onions. They tell us that their once a month food ration from the World Food Program does not last them for the entire month. They at times have to trade some of their food for other items, since most of them do not have a way to make an income. And, for your last question, they sleep on mats inside their tent or hut.
Great comment! Yes, seeing how they live does put everything into perspective, and we hope that our leaders can get a little taste of perspective.
Como estas? You ask about what is the greatest need for the people in the camps. There are different answers, depending on the scale of the needs. What they want is to go home. That comes up in every conversation. They want security and peace to go home. On a more day-to-day basis, the collection of firewood is the biggest problem in the camps. There is not enough in the surrounding areas. The women and children expose themselves to great danger, and there has been increasing conflict with the local population, which is itself struggling to survive in a tough environment. There is not an easy solution to the firewood situation. They will be trying some stoves that require less wood, up to sixty percent less wood. From what I hear, it is really not a permanent solution, and it might not even work from the start. Eating a meal is as close to the core as you can get when it comes to culture and tradition. Changing the way they cook would then start a chain of change that would have to take place in their lives. It is not as simple as we might think. We’ll work on showing more about this problem in the near future.
Hey Mimi (my beautiful daughter),
Yes, I also get happy and sad at being out here, seeing what I’m seeing, but we each do what we can, and the collection of all our actions will make a difference. Give a big hug to Gabito for me. Love, Papi.
Thanks for your good wishes and prayers.
Thank you all for staying in touch. I keep telling the people we meet that there are many people out there that care about them, but we want many more to care!
12 replies on “i-ACT: Day Eight”
Gabriel and others — I was glad to see a New York Times editorial on Darfur today, copied here for your information. I’m grateful for all your work! Alison Buttenheim, UCLA
New York Times Editorial
The New Rwanda
Published: November 28, 2005
Who says George W. Bush and Bill Clinton have nothing in common? Just as President Clinton did on Rwanda, President Bush is doing precious little to try to stop a genocide in Darfur. Indeed, this entire generation of world leaders has a dismal record at intervening in this kind of wholesale murder, and now they are failing to stop the elimination of entire African tribes in the Sudan countryside.
Obviously, most of the blame here can be laid squarely at the door of Sudan’s government. Sudan has armed and supplied the militia groups who have been going from village to village, hut to hut, and systematically raping and murdering women, men and even children.
The Times columnist Nicholas Kristof reports that last month, members of the janjaweed militia attacked the village of Tama in southern Darfur, killing 37 people, with another 12 still missing. In one particularly gruesome case, the marauders yanked 2-year old Zahra Abdullah from the back of her mother, Fatima Omar Adam, as Ms. Fatima tried to escape with her children. They bludgeoned the little girl on the ground in front of her screaming mother and sister. Ms. Fatima eventually escaped with two of her children, but was forced to leave Zahra to die at the hands of the janjaweed.
In another column, Mr. Kristof wrote that Arab men in military uniforms gang-raped Noura Moussa, saying, “We cannot let black people live in this land.” Ms. Noura said the men called her a slave and added, “We can kill any members of African tribes.”
The shocking fact is, apparently they can. The Sudanese government is enabling them, and the rest of the world isn’t doing much to stop it. It’s the same old Rwanda story, with the same indifference from the world’s governments.
Thank you for answering so many of our questions. I’m sure you’ll be getting many, many more. It definitely gives us a bigger picture of everything that you are seeing and feeling. Keep these great blogs coming.
I was wondering, So far the children I’ve seen in the videos look pretty healthy. Is this really the case? What sort of medical care do they receive? Do they have medical care for women (reproductive health care)? After you answer these questions, I’ll probably follow-up with many more…
Take care and thanks for all the hard work you and Chris are doing to bring us i-ACT.
We will continue to work hard on this side of the world…
Let’s get them home…
hey gabe it’s me lexi i hope all is well with u
in the video i noticed that the children look so happy smiling and amazed with the concept of a camera and also your presence
i couldn’t help but wonder if the children actually understand what exactly is going on as far as why exactly the Sudanese government is acting so
do the children understand why they are displaced is it a very clear subject for them or
are the children rather naive and innocent about their situation
do they feel any form of racism even as kids
When watching Day 7 when you sat with the family, I did not see smiles when discussing and answering your questions about their displacement and situation now. Their faces looked more like they were reaching out with hope but skeptical. How do they feel about the United States? Do they feel that you are offering some hope by bringing their story to us? What expectations do they have about the future?
Day 8 is wonderful to see the children. You can only wonder what they could become if they had the means.
As Rachel said, we are working hard on this side to get the word out to more and more. Teresa
I really enjoyed seeing all the kids. Was that during school recess? I also appreciated the panoramic view of the camp. It gives perspective to the enormity of the suffering taking place at just one camp.
I was wondering about their religious practices? Do they have spiritual gatherings?
Have there been any attempts by the refugees to organize? What are some of their sources of hope? Also, is there a quasi political structure? Do they have a judicial system? How do they as a society respond to wrong doing?
I’ve been having some trouble watching the videos, but I was finally able to watch Day 8 and I couldn’t decide whether or not I wanted to smile or cry. Hearing the infectious laughter of the children is so wonderful, and it reminded me of the time that you said that we can’t just show people images of starving, deprived children. That we need to show people in the West pictures of healthy, smiling children that are so like their own. It really hits home that children are children, no matter where you go and that they have an incredible ability to find joy in the smallest of things. We could all benefit in remembering how to do that.
Perhaps one way to get people more involved would be to show them the videos of these children and then tell them what the children have had to witness and experience. Hopefully that would shock their systems!
Thanks so much for the latest piece. Keep up the fantastic work!
Since gathering firewood seems to be a growing pain for people in refugee camps, I was wondering if solar cooking was considered as an alternative to conventional cooking.
There are some useful links on how to make solar cookers for less than 10$ using some everyday material. Agreed some of the material (aluminium foil) may be difficult for refugees to acquire, but have the aid organizations working in this area looked into this.
Muhammad is Strength, Hope and Sprirt and Inspiration. In my opinion, a teacher already!
The efficient utilization of all resources in the area and what is left over from products brought in, translates to icredible resourcefulness. Although, a reaction to the condition and is a necessity for survival, I was really touched by Muhammad, especially, in making it fun to make bricks.
I had thoughts of several idea as I was viewing this segment. One, how could I help to use the similar ideas of utiliztion of resources to help Muhammad become a teacher on day go back with his people.
I had previously thought of an idea of raising funds for StopGenocideNOW, through the powerful marketplace of Ebay, but I didn’t know how.
Muhammand inspired me…
It’s easy! Through a program called Ebay Giving Works and in connection with MissionFish, this innovative program helps nonprofits use a powerful marketplace to raise money toward and immediate cause.
I know alot of people would like to give or donate toward this immediate and important effort, but may not have the residual income or time to contribute. However, most have things lying around that may not be used or needed. An item(s)that another may desparately want and be willing to pay good money toward.
To get started, StopGenocideNow must sign up with MissionFish at:www.misionfish.org. Next, eBay seller picks nonprofit and percentage to share from the sale. After seller lists with MissionFish and item(s) is sold and transaction is completed, MissionFish will collects the donation from the seller, and then pays nonprofit,tax free! If the seller donates 100%, eBay Giving Works will donate the insertion fee and final sale fee to the organization selected.
A great motivation to sell and buy for the good of the people in Darfur. Thanks, Muhammad!
I am so excited for you that you are actually there and making this happen, and all of us here at Life in Africa are excited to hear about the Peace Tiles delivery. We’ve actually got a WE Center starting in Gulu now, and some trainees who are already working with us online. Some of those trainees were with us at the Peace Tiles workshop, so I’m sending them the link!
I read your story about visiting Mohammed and the questions you were posing yourself about what is and isn’t allowed to ask. I wanted to share that in my experience, it can be ok to ask potentially emotionally charged questions. What you need to anticipate, however, is that the child may feel abandoned after your discussion if no further relationship comes from such personal sharing.
From a personal perspective, it will be very difficult for you to absorb deeper relationships with every child you meet. Perhaps it might be an idea to identify 1-2 children with whom you do spend time developing a relationship with. Once you penetrate that trust barrier, I imagine those children being able to help you see the levels of impact that the crisis is having through a very unique lens.
Please tell them when you deliver the peace tiles that we’re watching from Uganda! All the best to you and your whole crew – and stay safe.
Hope everything is going well and I know that just being there you are making a difference for the people in Chad and here in America, expecially those who look up to you and your strength. Thank you for showing the true beauty of Chad, which are the children. Watching these children still smiling, laughing, and enjoying eachother’s company, demonstrates that hope does exist and anything is possible.
Thank you again, and take care!
A friend of mine Aida Martinez told me to to check this site out. I remember hearing about this issue in the news, but the main stream media seemed to forget about this situation shortly after its initial press. Its funny how short term the media and peoples minds are reminded of these horrors and how easily they forget.
I really appreciated your “##TITLE##”. I was searching for ##LINK## related sources when I found your site. I’m glad I was side-tracked. Great read. Very informative.