Day 4: July 13, 2007

Yuen-Lin’s Day 4 journal

Yuen-Lin day 4If a person has experienced a lot of suffering for a prolonged period, one may expect it to leave a mark. If there has not been effective outside assistance in bringing peace to one’s homeland, one might at least be cautious towards outsiders. Not so with the people we have met and seen so far. We have been warmly welcomed by every family we visit, and treated as though we were part of their community. Everyone has been kind: giving interviews, showing us around their homes, even creating quiet spaces in which to talk more intimately. The latter is no mean feat — almost the moment we arrive at the place where Darsalam, Sumaiya and others live, at least 15-20 kids appear and start walking with us, even following us into the compounds of people’s homes. From the looks of it, it is a very tight-knit community.

The kids are amazing at dispelling sorrow and despair, without even trying. As we are about to leave for the day, they gather about the car. As I walk to the car, they come to shake or hold my hand, smiling and saying good-bye. I try to hold everyone’s hand as I don’t want anyone to feel left out. It also makes me very happy. On our drive through the camp or back to home base, we pass many kids playing or just spending time outside. Almost all of them wave to us. At first I was not used to it, but now I wave back at everyone. How important and meaningful it is, the simple act of greeting one another and wishing each other well.

All this is in stark contrast to the reality of life in the camp. In past years, watching the i-ACT videos in the US, I sometimes found myself thinking that life in the camps looked “not so bad”. I now know that this is an utterly false impression; no doubt due to my ignorance, the resilience of the refugees, and the warmth they project.

Hamara (the lady in blue) has to sleep on the sand inside her tent, and it makes her sick. Sleeping on the sand must be a common practice, as we have seen far more people than beds. The inside of the tents we’ve visited was unbearably hot; they have no windows and are made of a fairly thick material which traps heat. The material is opaque and there are no transparent parts to let light through, so the tents are invariably quite dark inside. Everyone talks about needing more food, and needing better food. People may be getting rations equivalent to their daily calorie requirements, but this doesn’t account for quality nor variety of food. From what we’ve seen, they do not fare well in those regards. Imagine eating the same grain, mixed with millet, cooked with oil, for 4 years. The NGOs face huge challenges and constraints, sustaining hundreds of thousands of people in an environment that is not only as tough as it gets operationally, but also presents mortal danger. I’m sure they work very hard, but the fact of the matter is, this is no way for a human being to live for long periods of time.

There are also the less tangible things, which are just as vital to human life and inflict just as much suffering when not present. We ask people what their occupation was in Darfur. All we’ve asked were productively employed: farmers, teachers. In the refugee camp the majority are unemployed. Part of displacement is separation. Families are split up over distances that while relatively small in a modern, stable environment, can mean worlds apart where there is no communications infrastructure and where physical travel involves mortal danger.

Hamara asked us when we will bring peace to her country so she can return. “This year or next”, she asked. We, at that moment the representatives of the international community, had nothing much in way of a good answer. “We will take your message to the world and ask that peace be brought to Darfur.” I wonder how she felt.

Yuen-Lin with the women of day 4

6 replies on “Yuen-Lin’s Day 4 journal”

Hi Yuen-Lin:

In all your words, gestures and actions, I percieve genuine concern, love and deep empathy in helping to get the Darfurian refugees back home. I believe your connections, translates understanding, love and hope.
Acting in all known ways is urgent now! Timing is critical with the UN Security Council’s upcoming trip to Africa.
Take care,
gina and brandon

Hi Yuen-Lin,
For some reason I missed your journel entry before and was glad I came across it today. Your words put everything in perspective. It is easy to see smiling faces and think that their lives are “not so bad” but as you are personally witnessing and us through your words and pictures, we can see that their lives are actually quite horrific and it is only their resilience and strong will of survival that keeps them going.
Thanks for your work with i-ACT, I know you have been a vital member of the team since the beginning and they couldn’t do it without you.

Hi, Yuen-Lin,

It must be very frustrating, not having the answers you would so love to provide these refugees. At least they can see your genuine concern and desire to help their situation — the messages exchanged between them and your team are important. Keep those communications coming, and please try to show as much videotape of the actual daily routines and living conditions these people face over such a long period of time, filled with uncertainty, with no end date in sight.

Not only is the fortitude of the Darfuri refugees amazing, but they don’t seem to harbor the anger one might envision would fester after all they’ve suffered. It is easy to be worried about their mental and physical health knowing the enormous stamina it must take to survive with such meager resources in such a desolate environment, compounded by grief and fear. If the media is to reach the global community, the stories you are capturing must be put into the most effective channels. We can all work with our local media contacts, but it would be great to get the support of major networks and celebrity affiliates to help carry your messages from these camps.

You effort is enormous, and your work is vitally important. Take care.



Dear Koko,

I’m sorry I took so long to comment on this one. I’ve been keeping up with the posts but I haven’t really been able to sit down and think of something good to say.

That post was mind-blowing. It did more than just enlighten me; it stirred a lot of (mostly negative) emotions. I, as a person who has had the privilege of living a much easier life, cannot even begin to imagine what it is like to eat the same dish (if one can even call it that) for every single meal, or to spend my days incessantly thinking about friends and family that have been torn away from me. And at the same time I can only genuflect to their resilience and indestructible inner strength. It must take tremendous amounts of emotional solidarity to be able to smile when one’s present and future looks so grim. I can’t help but compare the attitude of the refugees to the students in my old high school, who cried and threatened to commit suicide when their handphones were confiscated.

Thank you so much for sharing your experiences and thoughts. You are a fantastic writer and reading every word is a joy.

Take care. I miss you.

Dear Gina and Brandon:

Thank you for your support. I agree about acting in all known ways and about timing. At the grassroots, I feel it is important that our actions are in sync with events transpiring at the international level. That is, we should express support for the right efforts, and hold the appropriate parties accountable for their plans and promises. We must continue to find more agile and effective ways to do this. The grassroots is the conscience.

Dear Teresa:

I’m so sorry, it was actually my fault that you didn’t see my journal entries. I was swamped with tech work for a while and fell behind in posting (I take a long time to write.) I then tried to catch up, which is why the entries started to appear for earlier days. Thank you for your support. I am fortunate to be a part of this team, which feels so much like family, and which has so much to offer.

Dear Lisa:

Thank you for your unending support. It is indeed frustrating. Hopefully we can channel our frustration towards finding ways to help which are both concrete and scalable. We have some ideas to work on in the coming months, that will add a humanitarian support angle to the i-ACT relationship. Totally agree about making full use of the stories we have captured; there is a lot more we can do. Looking forward to working with you and everyone else upon returning.

Dear Meron:

Thank you for your support :)

Dear Jia-Li:

Don’t be sorry :) I have been late posting as well, and it always brightens my day to hear from you. Hope you could channel the negative emotions into positive thoughts and actions :)

Being around the people here has shown me a lot about how to live. One comes to understand that there is so much we don’t know, and so much to learn from our brothers and sisters everywhere. That there is priceless value to the entire human race in something as seemingly simple as the attitude that a group of people have towards life. I think it’s the same with indigenous music, with traditional medicine, with ancient languages… things that are often trampled because prevailing notions of value (one barrel of oil for $70, one piece of lumber for $50) are not sophisticated enough to include them.

I think that every society, knowingly or unknowingly through its collective actions, is always trying to progress. Each has progressed further in different areas. Each deserves to continue its way of life, if for nothing else, because the products of its “research and development” are gems to all of humanity. We instinctively feel that each way of life is valuable; I think this is at least in part why.

About the students who cried when their handphones were confiscated, hope they will learn more about the world and through that gain better perspective.

I miss you too :) Take care of yourself and everyone back home ok?

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