One Panel. Two Stories.
The plane drops about 50 feet in a few seconds, and my stomach goes with it, then steadies. I peer out the window only to see a fine layer of sand, rather than a cloud line as you would in the States. It’s a bright sunny day, but the air is fogged with fine granules, I hope it doesn’t impede our landing. We bounce to the familiar runway secured by white hard top vehicles with large radio antennas attached to the passenger side.
Relief enters my mind and settles into my body. Even though we have not seen Bouba, Youssouf or one of our many UNHCR friends, I know that we are one step closer to holding the hands of those we came here to see. And I am confident that Bouba and Youssouf will make happen what needs to happen to get us to a camp by tomorrow, if not today. After spending some hours with permits and speaking to friends at UNHCR, Youssouf confirms this, “Tomorrow at this time, be in refugee camp!”
Youssouf has a surprise for us, although I am certain that he has no idea how much of a hero he really is: the lost suitcase of panels that were painted on one side by elementary students in Petaluma, CA and on the other by women and children of Camp Farchana! I can hardly believe my eyes when I see the suitcase, in all of the chaos that we experienced on our way out, our stable and trustworthy friends have come through for us once again.
One by one, we pull out the panels, looking first at the US side, then at the pictures that tell the stories of our Darfur friends. On one side Ryan has drawn a soldier holding a gun with a circle and a line through it, indicating “No War.” Moubarakh, with no guidance, on the other side shares his experience when war and genocide ravages a nation. When men are targeted for slaughter and women gang raped. His picture is one of military planes bombing innocent civilians, and janjaweed riding in to burn and loot the homes.
One panel. Two stories. Two cultures. Two children who deserve the same level of security and protection.
Would we allow for a child in our neighborhood to draw such violence? Would we not seek help for them – counseling, art therapy, sports to encourage them to work out anxiety. The answer is simply, yes, we would.
As I repack our bags for tomorrow – which includes a backpack ready for a visit to the camps! – I am distracted. I find myself opening the 75 pound suitcase of panels. Pulling each one out, first looking at those that are complete, then smoothing out the remainders, placing 20 in the backpack for tomorrow with pens that the children will get to keep.
I continue packing, but I am drawn to Ann’s words: relief agencies must be the seeds for sustainable long-term solutions. Community development agencies must be brought in along with immediate needs organizations. Because the emotional recovery and healing of individuals is just as strong and important of a human right than food, shelter, and water. And it is imperative in the rebuilding process, that it begins sooner rather than later. But later is already here for Darfur, so we need to act now, and more fiercely and confidently then ever to bring protection so we can begin rebuilding Darfur.