“The women are really the power that runs these camps.”
I said that more than ten years ago, when I first visited these refugee camps that dot the border between Chad and Sudan. Things have not changed.
The women—and girls—of Darfur have experienced unimaginable horrors. They have also demonstrated incomparable strength and determination. Over the course of my 23 trips to this region, I have heard too many stories I wish had never happened. It is heartbreaking that rape and violence against women and girls are so much a part of the story of Darfur.
Some years ago, Dajhima told us her story of becoming a refugee. She told us about chaos, fire, and blood; about how armed men would stop women and girls and take the clothes off of them; about how mothers had to grab their children and run towards the desert; and about how some children were left behind.
Achta told us about two sons being killed during the initial attack on her village; another one died on her back during the escape from Darfur; and a beautiful baby girl, Marymouda, dying of illness not too long after being born in the refugee camp.
Amira told us about bombs falling on her village; about Janjaweed riding in and burning everything down; about seeing babies killed before her eyes; about how, during the escape, young girls were kidnapped and raped repeatedly over a period of days.
The women also told us about how they had to keep going to save their other children. They never thought of stopping or giving up. They came to Chad and built refugee camps that are now cities, where there was nothing before. With their own hands, they constructed thousands of homes from sticks, grass, and sand; and they have reconstructed them countless times because of rain, wind, and fire.
With the world having forgotten about Darfur and its refugees, the women cannot stop and cry about it. They might cry, but they never stop. They have to keep feeding their children and fighting to offer them a better future than what their lives have offered them. They never lose hope.
I’ve had the privilege of meeting so many women of Darfur—and to work next to them. I thank them for all they have taught me and for opening their homes to me and my team—and for giving us the opportunity to sit with them under their trees.