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!