Day 4: Jan 22, 2008

A Promise

The front door of the building is creaking with the wind, the donkeys are upset and hewhawing continuously and the dogs haven’t stopped barking since we got here four nights ago. But these aren’t the reasons why I am wide awake after a really long day in camps, little food and not very much sleep. It’s their faces and their stories. For the past four days, we have woken up, bumped our way to Kounoungo, and now this morning Mile, sat with refugees and listened to them. We have shared, either through video or our stories, your emotions and dedications with the refugees here. I have watched happy and excited smiles turn to more serious expressions as we ask them more about their homes and what happened. I have seen their tears and the hope that lies in their eyes as they ask us questions like, “Why has nothing happened? Why all the broken promises? Why hasn’t the security council done anything?”

It is the very harshness of this reality that makes me feel comfortable retreating with the children. I have always been the “aunt” that will babysit on the spear of the moment, even if I am trying to get work done, just to be around the energy of the youth. To laugh and play and sing and run and forget about all the broken parts of humanity, to just for a moment, be carefree. I tried to step out of this place of retreat today and talk to more women. To stay with their story, leave more moments of silence. I am still not comfortable holding a camera during a conversation or even being on camera for that matter.

Today felt very different from the days in Kounoungo and hopefully through this entry, you too will be able to feel it.

KTJ Saleh filming and Mohamed sound guy


We are eight cars in the convoy this morning and of course we are last, ready to be picked off in case of a raid, or much more likely the car that misses the day in the camp if one of the vehicles ahead of us gets stuck crossing a dry wadi. We are in a flood plain so there are more trees and the “road” feels slightly more flat than the one to Kounoungo. I finally see up close the large bushes speckled red with white butterflies dodging in and around the thorns – ah, they are flowers, not berries, I can see for the first time!

We climb to the top of the small hill at the entrance to the camp. With 14,000 people, roughly the same size as Kounoungo, this camp looks much bigger, spread wide over 2 kilometers, and has a more permanent feeling. In this camp I continue to refer to the Darfurians as villagers, refugees has begun to feel a bit uneasy with me – like almost a continuation of the dehumanization of their people. Especially with such permanent structures.

Amira close up 4 We see almost no adults this morning as we wind between mud walls and homes. We cross the market and I come across to beautiful women, one carrying a new born and the other probably the age of Fatine from Kounoungo. Amira’s and her grandmother are on their way to register the new born. Without an official birth certificate, they do not receive an increase in food rations, which is already the case in speaking to several women. The grandmother, a midwife, wants only to return to Darfur. The second time today, but not the last the conversation goes like this:

“What do you do you in camp?”

Hands move away from her chest, palms flip up and her eyes get big, “Nothing, there is nothing to do.”

“What did you do in Darfur?”

“I was a midwife, I delivered babies. But can not here because they already have midwives. So I do nothing. Collect firewood. But it is very dangerous. Sometimes we get hit on the head, or raped.”

midwife I am holding the camera, trying to focus in on her expressions, think of an additional question and empathize with her situation all at the same time. I put the camera down and begin to take photos of the now larger group of women who have gathered on their way to registration. This is my coping mechanism. I know they love to see themselves on the digital – and it makes me happy to see their joyful response – usually a shy smile and a hand covering their mouth. Next time, I think to myself, push your limits and stay with the interview. They wouldn’t be sharing if they didn’t want to.

In this same block we meet several others with the same story, most of them from the same village in Darfur. Two months it took them to walk here. We sit with Aziza and she offers us water mixed with something to make it sweet. I am paralyzed – what do I do? Gabriel is used to this and passes up the chance to drink it. She has so little and she has shared it with me. She asks me to drink it and smiles. I feel ashamed and rude not to drink her gift. To think that my health is above hers. I can’t remember turning down someone’s hospitality in the past. But I also have never been in a refugee camp. She smiles and asks why I am not drinking it, I skirt the issue as we rise to meet her neighbors, Omar and Leila, who also walked for two months with Aziza to get to camp.

Everyone in the car is quiet on the ride back to Mile. It is a long day for all – registration for all the aid workers and a lot of walking for us. One man who I met yesterday actually manages to doze off in the car – how I don’t know! Today is our last day in Guereda which means our last day in Kounoungo and Mile until we return in a few months. I feel like our work is not complete here. I want to go back tomorrow. I want to stay another day. I want to meet more women of the camp. I feel like we have not learned enough of their lives to share them. This solidifies my determination to return to our friends in Kounoungo and Mile. I make a promise to all those I have met, “I will not forget you. I will work tirelessly. I will return with pictures of your beautiful face so you can keep a copy. I will work for education and for the future of Darfur.”

Aziza and youngest 2 The first part of today was spent mostly talking to the women of Mile. For the first time this trip we heard the stories of firewood. Aziza, a beautiful woman with a yellow scarf that occasional slipped from her head and silver hoop earrings, even motioned her hands to her head as she told us how dangerous it was to leave the camp. She has been here for four years. It took her 2 months to travel to this camp by foot, lorry, or sometimes by donkey. She wants to return home. We met a new mother, Amira, and her grandmother who delivered the baby here in the camps. They were part of the many who came with Aziza.

In this particular zone of the camp, there were so many who had arrived together. For four years.

26 replies on “A Promise”

Our complacency in the face of these people’s trials is shocking.

It seems once the press release goes out to make the politicians look good and the readers feel good, the difficult WORK of taking action doesn’t happen. My heart goes out to the women of the camps, I wish I could rebuild their homes and round up their goats myself, to welcome them home when they can return to Darfur.

Love you,
Your Ommi AKA Kathleen

PS To play with a child is to love him or her, and the best gift in the world is to know you are loved.

My Ommi!

I know the feeling of wanting to take action, and right now. Change moves at a snails pace, people keep telling me here, but even the refugees are getting discouraged by the sow pace and something needs to happen. Their needs here need to be meet and sustainable long term plan, created by them and collaborated upon by others needs to start, TODAY! One day, our i-ACT will be walking home with our friends to a stronger Darfur.


Where are all the husbands? In every trip it’s very noticeable that the women do most of the hard work, plus take care of all the kids…

It’s so sad that the women are still not being protected as they go out to get their fire wood. I can’t even imagine having to leave the camp knowing that you might be raped…How is the security at the camp? Do you think the women are getting raped at the camps as well? I don’t see any protection… I heard that at some of the camps they were giving out solar cookers, are they being used their at all or have they not reached this camp?


Greetings Rachel!

Good questions! In Kounoungo, we sat mostly with Yakoub and Adam, so it was heavy men time. But we did see a group of men working together to build a wall from afar and we saw a few groups of men around here and there, mostly do nothing. As for Mile, they just were nowhere to be found, not even at formal UNHCR registration were there any men! We saw a few working for IMC and in the office at one of the schools, but other than that not too many. The whole camp of 16,200 was desolate except for children. It was eerie to say the least. In Kounougo, we say a small group of boys playing soccer with one of the small hand made balls, but other than that nothing. In Mile we did watch, and caught on video, a short game of volleyball, but with only boys playing. Right to Play, an International NGO, has just entered Mile to bring sports programming. We have purchased a soccer ball for Djabal and played around with it today. We will probably take it to the camp tomorrow, I can’t wait to kick it around with the kids!

The security situation is bad in all 12 camps. People can’t keep animals, women are getting raped inside the camps and outside while collecting firewood. UNHCR talked to us about a project with the Committee de Vigil. Which is the Night Watchmen crews, who are currently all volunteer, we walk the camps day and night to keep security. However, after 5 years, people are tired of volunteering and need monetary or other compensation to remain active. In Kounoungo, the committee as almost dissolved entirely and in Mile it is deteriorating quickly. We will ask the refugees in Djabal – it should be an interesting visit as there are several more thousand IDPs living in this area than the refugees from Darfur and resources are scarce.

We haven’t seen any solar cookers at all yet, but will keep our eyes peeled!

Keep the good questions coming!!!

Hey Rach,

One of my first post on the first i-ACT talked about how, from the first time I entered a camp, I noticed that the women were the power and the soul of the camps. They do just about everything, except for the jobs that the men want because of pay or prestige. Growing up in Mexico, we were exposed to a “macho” society, and it’s really even more macho out here. The women are amazing. Of course, there are good, hardworking men that take on responsibility and risks. Also, men are the first ones to die when their villages are attacked, so that is why you don’t see many men. But, for sure there are gender issues that cannot be ignored.

Again, as your cousin,
KTJ, I encourage you to take some time to relate without the camera… Without an agenda, without roles and “who has more.” Show yourself and connect as one human being to another, one young woman to another, one member of a world so full of pain and beauty to another. Your heart, your tears, your pain, might bring them more than you think…
From one young man, to you, and everyone you meet, everyone you touch…

Greetings ‘Cuz!

Thank you for your continued words of support. I love just walking around the camps and meeting people. Our only agenda is to do just that. Speak with them and hear their stories. With two of us here it makes it easier to catch the stories on film and share them while one of us is able to connect on a more personal level – through touch and through the eyes and heart. I look forward to your encouraging words every day!

Wow, you two have been experiencing something so wonderful and heartbreaking at the same time. I can not believe Darusalam delivered her baby while walking to Tine. It is amazing what we humans are capable of. It made me think about the child I am about to birth and how lucky I am to be here, safe and secure, surrounded by my friends and family. Every time I read the journal entries I tear up. They are such beautiful, kind, and loving people. I’m glad to see that the children still have it in them to laugh and play. Please give them a hug from me.

Dearest Nellie!

The next hug I give I will tell them it is from my good friend in Portland, OR! I promise! I got goose bumps when I read your comment this evening. Darsalam is a woman I will never forget, and when I return in March, I will be sure to give her pictures that we took so she can hang them in her home. Everyone we meet is so beautiful, despite what they have been through, and I just can’t wrap my head around how the children continue to smile and laugh. It’s truly inspiring.

I am moved every time I read your entries. Reading about the women gathering firewood, makes so many things in my daily life so trivial. You and everyone with you are doing an amazing job in telling us what you see and hear, how you feel and what you hope for the future. I love the pictures, and enjoy seeing a few of you in the mix. I know you want to stay and do more, but you have already done so much in the little time you have been there. Trust me when I say that this trip has had a great impact, not only on those you have reached there, but especially on those who are here. Thanks for sharing so much. Mucho amor, Brenda

Mi Amiga Brenda,

Of all the stories and exchanges I have had in the last several days, your words brought tears to my eyes. I wonder about the impact I am having on the refugees here. I just don’t want to give them false hope when their reality is so harsh. I want to make sure that when I say I am doing all I can, I really am. Its encouraging to hear that my words and the videos are impacting you as much as the days I spend with the refugees are impacting me. Thank you for always being their to share my life with. Mucho Amor y Abrazos!

Hi my name is Kayla Bowers. I go to Crossler Middle School , you came to our school once and i really enjoyed it. You are a great person and you do alot of things for the people. Reading your journal entries really moved me. They helped me understand a little bit more of what you do and its very intresting. I was also wondering what kind of language do they speak? And also what do they do for fun?

Hi Ashley and Kayla!

Thanks for watching the daily web casts and writing me a note! I am looking forward to the assembly also! The common language that most people can speak, if educated, is Arabic. This is used to communicate between the different tribes that have relocated to these camps from their homes in Darfur. Depending on what tribe they identify with, their language will change. Kounoungo, the camp we were in for the first three days, is very diverse. You will find people speaking Zaghawa, Tama, Erenga, and Messeria. I can bring a map home with me to give to you when I see you in February! Tomorrow we will be going to visit Djabal, and I will ask the refuges what they spend their free time doing. So far, when we ask this question the children say the play either futbol (soccer) or volleyball. The adults don’t have anything to do and are not happy about it. The camps are quite a desolate place. Hope to hear from you again, please spread the word about Darfur!


I am a student at Crossler Middle School and i appreciate and enjoy watching all of your videos and reading your journals. I tell all my friends and family about you and the work you do. Do kids get to go to school in the refuge camps? Good luck and safe travels.

Greetings Ty!

Thanks for tuning in and reading the journals! There are primary schools in most of the 12 camps in Eastern Chad. Primary school generally goes through Level 7, which is equivalent to grade 7. There are no secondary schools in any of the camps. Right now, our organization is over here working on helping to build secondary schools. Education really is the hope for the future in any society and without the hope of continuing their education, many don’t even finish level 7. Stay tuned and there will be more on education!


My name is Ashley from Crossler Middle School in Salem, Oregon. I can’t wait for the assembly in February. In class we have been reading your journal entries and exploring the website. It makes me sad to think about how the people live and I just feel guilty for all the luxuries that I have. I have a question I’d like you to ask a refugee. What do you do in your free time? What language do most people speak? Hope to hear from you, see you in February. Thank you for what you do.


Hi Ashley and Kayla!!

Thanks for watching the daily web casts and writing me a note! I am looking forward to the assembly also! The common language that most people can speak, if educated, is Arabic. This is used to communicate between the different tribes that have relocated to these camps from their homes in Darfur. Depending on what tribe they identify with, their language will change. Kounoungo, the camp we were in for the first three days, is very diverse. You will find people speaking Zaghawa, Tama, Erenga, and Messeria. I can bring a map home with me to give to you when I see you in February! Tomorrow we will be going to visit Djabal, and I will ask the refuges what they spend their free time doing. So far, when we ask this question the children say the play either futbol (soccer) or volleyball. The adults don’t have anything to do and are not happy about it. The camps are quite a desolate place. Hope to hear from you again, please spread the word about Darfur!

I’m a student from Crossler Middle School and my name is Rosa. As a matter of fact our peer helping class met with you. I’m so proud of what you are dong to change the peoples lifes in Darfur. Watching the video from day one was very heart touching and i could really get a feel of how people there really live. I was wondering how do the refugees get fed?
I can’t wait to hear from you soon and learn more about what happened at Chad and Darfur.

Greetings Rosa!

Thank you for your comments and for supporting our team while we are out here! I remember meeting with your class right before break! In the first two camps we were in, Secadev, an International Non-Governmental Organization (NGO), was the primary supplier of food. When the refugee comes to the camp they need to register and are given a food ration amount that they collect on a monthly basis. The size of the food ration depends on how many people it needs to feed. Additionally, some refugees are able to work, either in nearby villagers of for the NGOs that are working in the camps. In these cases, the refugees may be able to purchase a little food at a local market, usually designated just for refugees. I will be sure to ask in the next three camps that we will visit!


Hi i am a student at Crossler Middle School, i really liked watching the vidieos and reading the entrys. I had a Question wondering if people in Darfur have a place to live or where they live if they have tents or homes?
Good luck and safe traveles.


Katie Jay,

Hello there. Another excellent post! I feel so much more connected to what I am seeing after reading the posts online. I too sensed a greater sense of permanence in this camp compared to others I have seen. I want to know from the people in the camp what they think of being Sudanese? How has that changed since their ordeal began? So many have commented that they simply want to go home to Darfur…but I am curious of what they think they would return to? Have any of them referred to a break with the government in Khartoom? What is a united Sudan after this…is that possible? Considering the pending election in South Sudan in 2011…I am just curious to see what people in the camps think about the politics.
Secondly…its great to see you middle school students on here…great comments and keep coming back!
Rob Hadley
Clackamas High School

Greetings Rob!

Thanks for following all the posts and writing back! Mostly I think if they returned to Darfur, they would rebuild a stronger Darfur. The permanence in the camps is nothing compared to what they would be rebuilding in Darfur if they could. Some have mentioned that they try to grow crops or raise livestock, but the security in the camps inhibits this. I believe they would begin this again. I will think about how to frame a question about identity, but one we asked one woman if we could see her home – she asked if we wanted to walk to Sudan with her – she did not refer to her zone and tent number as home. Peace!

Dear All,

I am so struck by your beautiful writing and the hope you bring to us, even
through the sadness. Thank you!


KTJ, you said you’ve come to refer to the Darfurians as “villagers” because “refugees” has begun to make you feel uneasy. How do they refer to themselves most often? Have you asked any of them, directly, what they prefer from vistors and the media?

Darusalaam’s story of her childbirth upon her arduous trek to the camp could make many of us feel so weak in comparison. Can you tell us an age breakout of the children in camp? How many estimated born in the camps? Although there’s mention of midwives, are there many suffering from delivery complications such as fistulas, etc.? Do you know the infant mortality rate in these camps?

Just wanted to mention that the addition of subtitled text in the video is nice! Especially, when there are competing noises in the background (oh, on this end, too!).

You succeeded in another day of compelling reporting . . . please get a little sleep so you can capture more for all of us, tomorrow.


San Antonio

Greetings Lisa!

The refugees themselves refer to themselves as just that. They also refer to the larger community as family, which is more personal and speaks monuments about how their community really relates to one another. When speaking with them I usually use general terms – women, men, people from Darfur, etc. I think really its my own definition and associations that I have with the word that brings these feelings to the surface. I have not asked them directly, I am trying to become better and memorizing their names instead! Which is hard since even in back home in the States it takes me several meetings! As for ages, It seems that more than 50% of the population in any of the 12 camps is under the age of 17, this includes both males and females – UNHCR gave me some great break outs that I will try to get electronic copies of once I get back so I can post them on our site! Something that I think about is how many of the kids are under 5 years old. Those who are have never experienced life outside a refugee camp. When I worked with Somali Bantu children and women in Portland, many had been in a camp for over 14 years. I don’t want to see this happen to those we have been meeting here. I have not heard any facts about infant mortality or the medical situation overall in the camps, although we do try to ask. Hopefully we will find out sometime during the trip! Thanks for your continued support, Lisa! You truly are part of our community!

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