I first met Selma in January 2008, on my very first trip to the refugee camps. She was the only girl in the Level 6 class, and she hardly spoke any English. She studied with fifteen boys, and every single one of them asked us for more education. At that time, they were studying at the highest level offered in Camp Djabal and unsure if they would be able to continue the following year.
My heart ached for Selma. Her words about uniting the women of Darfur resonated deeply within me, and my mother too. I knew we had to do something to change the situation. This is our first interview with Selma (and the first time we meet Guisma’s family):
Two years later, I was reunited with Selma, and I met her sister Bussaina, who is just as outspoken and beautiful as Selma. That same trip, Bussaina eloquently addressed girls’ right to education in our live Refugee Town Hall, and left leaders standing nearby in panic. She told the world that their mothers wanted education for them, but that many of the men and their fathers did not encourage it. I knew then that both of these girls were going to be strong leaders for their communities. Here’s an interview with both of them at their new secondary school:
I often wonder how different their lives would be, had they been born here in the United States. Selma would be starting her senior year in high school, and Bussaina would be at the college of her choice. But instead, they are waiting in a refugee camp, in the middle of nowhere, isolated and with little hope of a university education.
It is women like Bussaina and Selma who are shifting the norms and changing what their society thinks of women. They were once only considered wives, mothers, and daughters, but now they are also students, teachers, and leaders. As Umda Tarbosh, a refugee leader, once told me, the generation of Darfuris growing up in the camps must combine the new lessons of the world with the old traditions of Darfur. It is Selma and Bussaina, and all the girls who follow them, who are taking charge of their own future through education in these camps.
I truly believe that, by supporting them now, we are helping build a stronger Darfur for the future. I know it’s far off, but maybe we can help them fulfill their dream of a university education, little-by-little. They want to become great leaders that create change and lead with justice and peace. I hope one day they can realize this dream.
Have other ideas that you want to discuss? Feel free to contact me at ktj[at]stopgenocidenow.org.