Few dozens of miles south of UNHCR camp in Darfur, Sudan, the mission of a group of young, enthusiastic human rights watch-dogs turned from observing and reporting human rights violations committed during the war in areas beyond UN reach, to personally taking care of hundreds of newly created war refugees. A small temporary camp was set up in the middle of nowhere, to serve as a temporary residence for people escaping atrocities in the villages of Blue Nile State. With little to no resources in hand, it was a miracle that the camp had a functioning hospital to cure the injured, enough clean water to kill the thirst of people who spent days in the desert, and enough food for everyone to survive on until they moved to the permanent UNHCR camps.
Dozens of people found their way into the camp everyday, many of which would not have survived the remaining miles to the UNCHR camps otherwise. Surely, for a group of young activists with little to no experience in aid work, this camp was a great success story to tell for years to come, but I seriously doubt any of the activists who worked on this spontaneous project are talking much about it, if at all. And I’m sure they are just trying to forget the entire experience altogether, good and bad.
It was so hard for everybody to watch so many people die shortly after their arrival to the camp, and it was harder to watch those who they knew for few days, and interacted with, follow them to into the light. But the absolute hardest part was trying to explain to the children why their loved ones are not answering them, or why they will be placed beneath a pile of dirt the following morning.
Om Salama, a six year old girl, arrived with her mother one evening, looking absolutely awful and dehydrated. By the very next morning, she was the picture of health and hope. She had a ridiculously big smile on her face all the time, and cheered everyone up just by being around. Om Salama’s mother was injured badly, and the combination of malnutrition and exposure to the unfriendly bugs of the desert didn’t help her body very much. She was scheduled to be transferred to an actual hospital with the upcoming supply run, three days away. Sadly, she passed away before the truck made it to the camp, and little Om Salama lost the last person she had in the world after losing her father and sibling to the war.
Om Salama’s bitter cries were the most brutal torture anyone within the camp had ever experienced, and to this day none of the people who heard them can’t forget them. Whenever her eyes met yours as she screamed, you felt like the entire weight of the universe was concentrated on your fragile chest. No matter how “tough” you thought you are, and no matter how many atrocities you have witnessed before, you couldn’t be prepared enough to meet Om Salama’s eyes as she cried over her mother’s cold body.
Something changed inside of all the activists working in the camp after that night, and life never got back to its usual sweetness. Om Salama was taken to the UNHCR camp a couple of days later, but her cries are still echoing inside everyone who heard them to this day.
Disclaimer: all the names in this article have been changed in order to keep the privacy of the people involved.
Photo Credit: Humans of Darfur