Visiting Trocaire in Sudan

Since arriving in Sudan, we have met with nothing but genuine friendliness. Strangers repeatedly join us on the streets to buy us teas and juices. “It is my duty”, they say. We feel no threat here in Khartoum, as we greet dozens of homeless ‘urban poor’ who sleep at night on the street below our hotel balcony. However, there is no avoiding the fact that Sudan remains in the depths of a crisis which continues to tear asunder the stability of the country. A hopeful ceasefire in the south has ended much suffering but blood continues to spill in the West and East. Some blame the government for spending oil money in Khartoum and allowing the straw shacks of the provinces to rot. Others point out that this government is steadily moving away from the previously oppressive sharia law. Whether or not the government’s policies will result in a prosperous and fair Sudan remains to be seen. In the mean time, good people are caught in the turmoil. Their lives are put on hold. They live to survive.

Last week, we visited Trocaire’s office in Khartoum to speak to Trocaire’s country coordinator, Mohammed Osman. The office is a low key affair, a couple of rooms located above the Sudanese Development Authority – one of Trocaire’s partners in Sudan. Mohammed explained that Trocaire works with about a dozen Non Government Organisations in Sudan. These NGOs work in targeted areas on capacity building, conflict resolution, and livelihood and food security. Local NGOs often have a grassroots level awareness of the issues and the local knowledge to propose and implement workable solutions. We arranged a visit to a camp for IDPs (Internally Displaced People) at Wad El Bashir, north of Khartoum. Juma and Moses from Lokita, one of Trocaire’s partners, brought us to some of their projects which have been funded by Trocaire.

Lokita took us to see their community centre where they organise capacity building workshops and courses in areas such as adult literacy and health education. Trocaire provide funding to the centre. During the courses, which are mainly attended by women, the centre provides meals and childcare facilities. Traditional roles have been reversed. Men used to be the bread-winners. Now, they cannot find employment. Some women brew alcohol to make an illicit income. They get put in prison, with their children. Girls work as domestic helpers in wealthy homes. At home, these people lived off the land. Here you drive for five kilometers and all you see is brown mud houses, stick and sheet shacks and dust.

Khartoum is surrounded by planned and unplanned IDP camps, temporary accommodation for over 2 million people who want to go home. They have come from the South, West and East of Sudan to escape various ongoing conflicts. The IDP camps in the conflict areas and the refugee camps in neighbouring countries are renowned for night raids. One eighteen year old we met spoke of his youth. He was born in the South of Sudan. He fled to a refugee camp in Ethiopia to escape the civil war when he was ten. The camp was regularly raided, often by soldiers. People were killed. Food convoys were attacked. Although IDPs are safe in Khartoum, they are treated like an unpleasant infestation. The population of the IDP camps fluxes according to conflict in Sudan. Since the end of the civil war in the South last January, the camps have started to shrink slowly as people manage to gather the funds and the courage to go home. NGOs are working to assist the repatriation of the IDPs to their homes in the South as they become safe. The NGOs will move with them to assist in the provision of services such as schools and hospitals.

In the planned areas, many families have constructed reasonable houses from home-made mud bricks, light timber lats and woven palm leaves for a roof. “Some of these will wash away in the rains next month. People have died here in heavy rains”. In the unplanned areas of Wad El Bashir, IDPs live in makeshift homes made from available materials – sticks, cardboard and sacking. Neither of us entered one of these tiny patchwork tents and even if we did, we couldn’t appreciate what it must be like to live in one. They would be a fun toy for a six year old to play in, but here, thousands of families are living for years in these appaling conditions. Two years ago, the authorities began to bulldoze makeshift and brick houses to roll out planned housing. Although mud houses and rough dirt streets are appearing slowly, thousands are left to suffer another wet season without adequate shelter.

– Written by Malachy Harty and published in The Imokilly People

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