Today was a dream i-ACT day: we captured almost four great stories in a matter of hours, and in the end had to decide which to use! It was also a special day for me as a tech guy.
Right after recording our Ask the Candidate question, we walked to Hamara’s tent to show her and the other women some pictures of them with Gabriel and Stacey, taken during the 2006 mission. To make sure the pictured had a chance to see the pictures, we tried to institute some “crowd control” – the women asked the battalion of kids to stay outside for a while, while Ali and I stood side-by-side to make a human barrier at the gate. Needless to say, two against twenty spells futile endeavor. I let one too many kids in (I thought they were relatives!), Ali got someone to replace him (probably out of frustration with his incompetent barrier-mate), and not long after that we realized it was a losing battle and let the flood gates open. Around this time Gabriel took out his iBook and stationed himself under a grassy roof shelter in Hamara’s compound.
When Gabriel started showing the pictures, there was what I would call a good number of people under the shelter – many people, but still some room between them. In the front were children, and the rest a mixture of women and children. Hamara, her mother, Darsalam and the rest of the gang were about two people-rows from Gabriel. There were wide-eyed looks all around, people pointing at the screen saying things, kids arching their necks and turning their heads for a better view. Young and old eyes alike twinkled. Everyone was smiling, talking excitedly. The scene reminds me of an old-fashioned line drawing depicting the unveiling of some great invention, like the first steam engine. In about five minutes our makeshift theater was jam-packed with people.
I was quite moved by all this. Here was relatively simple technology connecting people with a time far away, making them very happy. Without too much effort it could have been connecting them with places and people far away. With loved ones still in Darfur or in other camps. With people around the globe who wished them well and were striving on their behalf. With global leaders, who could benefit from talking directly with the people behind the numbers in their executive summaries. Technology is valuable only insofar as it solves actual problems and answers actual needs. Today, it seems to be disproportionately applied to the problems and needs of those who are already quite privileged. This needs to change, and the experience at Hamara’s made me see even more why.
Some time afterwards, I met a boy called Mansur. There was a quiet determination in his demeanor that I must have barely noticed upon first meeting him, but would soon manifest again. After seeing Al-Hafiz’s home, we decided to head back to the car for a break. I was lagging behind with some kids, so Gabriel and Connie went ahead. Suddenly, Mansur and a friend of his appeared. They had two pieces of paper in hand. Both were drawings of battle scenes; realistic, graphic drawings that from a child that young could only have come about through direct experience. Ali and I arranged to meet Mansur later at his home. When we arrived at his room, we found on a wall the drawings we saw earlier. According to Mansur, he put them up so that people who came would know what happened. Side-by-side with the battle drawings were others depicting more peaceful scenes: a city, animals, children playing.
Mansur was eight years old when his village was attacked by the Janjaweed. He escaped with his parents, but many others he knew were killed. If we think that is painful, imagine how it’s like for someone from a community so tightly knit that literally everyone knows each other and people walk in and out of their neighbors’ compounds freely. In the corner of one of Mansur’s drawings, there is the colorless figure of a baby, lying still on the ground beside a tank. Two years after the attack, it seems that the unimaginable trauma he went through still shows in his manner.
This evening at dinner, the topic came up of a person who claimed that it was “hard to tell” the true from the false among statements about what happened in Darfur. He said it was because the issue was “so highly politicized”. As any i-ACT participant knows from the bottom of his or her heart, there is absolutely no merit to this argument. Even if the dozens of eyewitnesses i-ACT has interviewed essentially at random are lying (with a damn straight face I might add), even if every interviewee regardless of background somehow managed to collude or be influenced to paint the same consistent false picture, even so, you simply can’t get masses of children to lie so convincingly in their drawings. As early as the first i-ACT, we saw an entire table laid out with similar graphic drawings of attacks, produced by children spending time at an NGO program. One even showed a woman being raped. To anyone who claims we can’t know for sure what happened in Darfur, tell them first to do their homework. Tell them to come and watch i-ACT videos. As a global society we should be WELL past the stage of disputing what is by now solid fact.
Mansur wants to be a doctor. I told him I was sure he would make a very good doctor.