i-ACT: Day Nine

I’ll be right back!
5:19 pm

I was going to start writing, but I just looked outside right now, and it is getting dark. I think I should go take a bath, since every day we come back bathed in sand; there is just no way around it. It is sandy and windy! Today we went to Kounoungo, which is about 40 minutes going back towards Abeche. It was as windy as Mile. So, I’ll be right back!

Donkey Water
5:40 pm

I’m back! Just a quick note about water here in Guereda, there is no running water. All of the water comes in by way of donkey and everyone here in the different compounds for the NGO’s (non-governmental organizations) call it “donkey water.” For a bath, I go over to a private area, grab one of the buckets they have outside, and I pour water on myself with a cup. It does the job! I feel a lot better. For drinking, we brought cases of water from Abeche. There is nowhere to buy drinking water out here. Oh, where does the donkey water come from? It comes from wells that are dug up in the area. Many of the locals that cannot afford the donkey water have to go out to dry riverbeds and start digging. It is a tough, on the edge existence, but they find happiness within it.

Yesterday I went out to an open area that is right in front of the UNHCR’s (United Nations High Commission on Refugees) compound. There are always children there, and there is always at least one with a soccer ball. I found three boys, and, speaking the universal language of futbol, I started a little game of two-on-two. The little guy on my team was great; we had it going on! It was not long before another two joined in the game, and then another two, and then I’m not sure how many more. A few women, standing at their doorways, were laughing. It must have been from the joy of seeing such a high skilled exhibition of the beautiful game, futbol. My team won six to five. I was exhausted at the end, and we only played about twenty minutes. It must be the altitude. After the game, I really needed a bucket full of donkey water to wash off.

A day in Kounoungo

The drive out to Kounoungo was a little rougher than what the road to Mile puts out. Or maybe it was because we were not following another car, and Bechara, our trusted driver with just enough English to make me smile every time I see him, did not know when to slow down for the many bone-jarring bumps on the road. The camp itself is made up of thousands of UNHCR tents and the mud huts that are constructed around them, just like in Mile.

We first stopped with the gendarmes to announce our “mission.” We are always introduced as “journalists” by the aid agencies that are escorting us around. From there we went to school. School in Kounoungo is a lot more like what we expect a school to be like than what you saw in Day 9 from Mile. Here, there are actually structures with classrooms for the teachers and students. They do not have a floor as we know them, though. They sit on dirt. As in Mile, the children sing. They sang a song about Sudan and the beautiful things they miss so much.

The school director told us that the children have a hard time learning because of the trauma they still experience from having lived through horrible violence. The school does not have enough materials, the director said, and there is no school for the older boys and girls because of the lack of resources.

They children would like to grow up to be teachers and doctors and football players. One of them wants to be the president of Sudan.

After the school, we visited a “child-friendly center,” where aid workers do activities with children, such as art, crafts, and theater. We handed out disposable digital video recorders to ten boys and girls and sent them out to record what they think is important or want to share with others. No instructions on what to record, just on how. They were also told to write one word descriptions of what they were recording. We did not figure out how to download the material to our laptops, so we’re not sure what’s in there. I’m so curious! This project within our i-ACT project was proposed by Sharon Daniel, a professor at UC Santa Cruz who has done this in other countries. It was all so last minute before we came out, so I did not have time to run through it all back home. We would like to be able to download the material and then hand out the cameras again to other participants, and even share some of it while we’re still out here.

We then gave out ten of the Peace Tiles to the ten dv cam reporters. The Peace Tiles came all the way from Gulu, Uganda, through Los Angeles, to the children of Darfur. They are beautiful messages of peace, created by children that are living in an area that is experiencing war. We took pictures of the children holding the gifts, so that these pictures can go back to Gulu and the children that created the art pieces.

During the time the children were out video recording, we went to look for the Save 80 Stove. This is touted as the solution to the biggest daily problem in the camps, the lack of firewood and the dangers the women and children expose themselves to by going out to collect it. These stoves were designed to use less wood than what the people usually use in their open flame fires. As a test, some of the stoves were given out to refugees in Kounoungo. We found two of them, and it was obvious that they were not being used by the women of the house. There are many little reasons why, and one big one. They are just used to cooking the way they have been doing it for generations and generations. The stove is too tall, so they would need a stool. It can really only be used outside, since it generates too much heat for their little huts. They like the open flame!

Well, that’s a summary about our day at Kounoungo. We will be going back tomorrow for a couple of hours and then to Mile. If everything goes as planned, which it usually doesn’t, we will be on the road to Iriba by early afternoon.

Please ACT.

Paz

A note on health issues
8:44 pm

I went over to talk with Martin, to coordinate some activities tomorrow. I really want to show some of his work. Well, while being at CCF’s compound, some visitors came from other NGO’s. Martin is popular! One of the visitors is someone that knows quite a bit about health issues in the camps. One piece of information is shocking and sad. Twenty-eight percent of pregnant women in Mile are positive for syphilis. Men will not use condoms. At Kounoungu, the big problem is malnutrition. Many of the women leave the camp to go to the border, probably uniting with other family members. They then leave young children in charge of feeding even younger children.

Gabriel co-founded Stop Genocide Now in 2005, which gave birth to i-ACT in 2009.

He became involved in the situation in Darfur out of a sense of personal responsibility. He believes the power of community and compassion, combined with personal empowerment, can bring about meaningful change.

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Comments

7 Responses to “i-ACT: Day Nine”
  1. Anonymous says:

    Hello Gabriel this is Rinee from Pam’s class at MSMC. Hope all is well. I really enjoyed the video from yesterday. I wanted to share with you something special that happened this thanksgiving weekend. My mother reads little English and is Brand new to the technology world but she has learned how to use the internet. I have the Pali News paper that has your picture on the front page and she took it upon herself to look up your website. She didn’t know how to post a blog so she asked me to post one for her. She is standing next to me and she wants me to tell you that she wishes you well and that she has you in her prayers and that your good work will pay off. Thanks and good luck
    Rinee and Sonia Alvarez

  2. Anonymous says:

    hey Gabe,
    i would be really excited to meet youssouf and in darfur. keep up the good work and stay safe!
    your nephew,
    david aka max

  3. Anonymous says:

    Hola Gabriel,
    I finally got to see the one of the videos on my own and not in class. To see the children laughing and playing brings so much joy, just the though that some of these children and you, could be in danger is very freighting. I hope all is well and just remember that us as a class at Mount St. Mary’s College are trying out BEST to get awareness out as much as we can, so don’t think we forget about you.
    Sincerely,
    Claudia G. –Mount St. Mary’s College Student

  4. stuart says:

    hey well it me stuart i want to say that u really taken part of this so much do poeple help u alot and im glad that u do this and poeple should no more about this they should put this in schools more thanks i hope u come back soon………….come to vist pali soon laters gabriel

  5. Lidia Tilahun says:

    Hi Gabriel and Michael! I got to see your videos at the student task force meeting! You guys are doing a wonderful job! I loved watching the beautiful children laugh into the cameras, especially at the “Hello” part!! My favorite was the interview, It gave me a better idea of what an actual Sudanese family felt about the genocide. Thanks and keep up the good work!

  6. Anonymous says:

    Hello Gabriel and team.

    Congratulations on delivery of the Peace tiles! What an epic journey they have made — and you as well.

    We are all watching, reading and blogging here – alternately fascinated and appalled at what you are helping to document.

    As a teacher, I am particularly touched by the school images. Might you inquire about what type of educational materials they most need?

    The work you are doing is really helpful in highlighting this as a HUMAN situation, with real people involved. When we see the images and hear the voices, we can’t help but realize these are people who are more like us than we could have imagined.

    Thanks so much for your noble efforts. We look forward to your return. Be safe.

    – Steven Hunter, faculty co-sponsor of the Pali High Student Task Force

  7. Rachel says:

    Hi guys,

    I loved watching Video Day 9. The children are just amazing. But in all this amazement, I was so sad to think that these wonderful children are living through the most horrific times of their lives. Being persecuted and kicked out of their own homes because of who they are (or what they are not). They are trying to survive a genocide, the worst humanitarian crime. How can this be possible? How can this be tolerated?
    ——————————-

    The Veerman family wishes we were there to play soccer with you guys.

    All the best

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