By John U Birchenough, Country Funding Manager, Norwegian Church Aid (NCA is a Caritas partner)
The four men who sit opposite me are members of the Rizegat, an Arab tribe and are nomads. I have been introduced to them by El Fadil Abdullah Tambour the coordinator for the NCA Darfur Emergency Program Response Unit (Caritas works through NCA in Darfur). Tambour has worked and come into contact with them previously when his unit provided them with some non food items which they had requested.
I open our conversation by telling them that I have come from Europe and that one of the reasons I am here is to write about some of the people we work with in-order to share this with the different supporters of the programme in other countries. Many of them know very little about Sudan and the way of life of the Sudanese beyond what they see on television. The men nod their heads in understanding, and after expressing thanks to the programme for the support that it has provided them, start to tell me about whom they are and where they come from.
A long time ago their sub-tribe the Mahariya came from Kutum in North Darfur. About thirty years ago there was a drought and the tribe went in search of fresh grazing and water. They came to South Darfur but many of their animals perished because of the drought and disease. Since 1974 they have stayed in one place. In the old days they had camels, but since they lost them they only have goats and sheep and a few cows.
Their settlement is called a Damra in Arabic; the Damra consists of about fourteen hundred households, although the number fluctuates. Other members of the sub-tribe are scattered around different parts of south Darfur.
I ask them whether life has changed a lot over the years. The response is interesting. I have expected them to talk about the difference in lifestyle, this they do not talk about though. Instead they talk about education. “Our fathers did not push us to educate ourselves” they tell me. “The children used to spend their time in the wadis.”
“Over the past five years since the arrival of the international NGO’s we have realised how important it is to have an education for our children, so today we are encouraging our children to go to school”.
“Life is also more difficult today; before you could easily pick up your stick, take your goat or a sheep and walk to market in El Fashir for example. Today there is more insecurity and movement is more difficult“.
Today men from the community work as cattle drovers or they work in the cattle market in places like Nyala as mediators between buyers and sellers of cattle. Others go and look for work further away, even as far as Egypt and Libya. Women go out to collect firewood to sell.
It is not always easy to find assistance for the very vulnerable such as old people without work and the government is not always able to fulfill needs quickly.
The leaders of the sub-tribe heard that INGO’s had come to Darfur to help people in need and they went to OCHA who gave them a list of organizations who might be able to help them. On that list was NCA.
This was how they met Tambour. They wanted assistance for vulnerable households and asked Tambour if NCA could provide them with Jerry cans and shelter material. NCA did an assessment and provided them with support. They also asked Sudanaid for plastic mats for children to sit on in their classrooms.
A local NGO has built the community two classrooms; the community contributed two classrooms itself. The classrooms are built of local materials that need to be replaced every eight months or so, but at least it is an opportunity for the children to study.
When I ask the men about the future their emphasis is again on education.
“People can lose riches, but they can’ t lose their knowledge, if they have an education there is always a future for them, that is why we want to invest in a better future for our children through improving their education environment.”
They also tell me about the traditional way of learning and of the ”Khalwa” which they also want to develop and principles of learning for all, old and young, promoting culture, spiritual values and addressing global changes.
We talk about the possibilities for peaceful coexistence and what is necessary; the men tell me about how in their area Rizegat, Fur, Birgit and Zaghawa try to live peacefully.
“The problems that all communities and tribes face are with criminality; there needs to be respect for the law and justice which people need to put before tribal considerations” someone says.
As one man puts it to me; “we expect a peaceful life again one day, but we need to be honest in dealing with problems, honest within our own and with other communities and honest with each other”.
With these parting words about honesty the Sheikh and other men again express thanks for the assistance received and depart back to their lives in the Damra and hopefully a more secure future for their children.