Last week in the House of Commons, London, I introduced a debate which I believe has the potential of affecting many lives. It is a debate which I believe we should insist people engage with in the hope that the decision makers will realise at last that it is no good waiting for a sustainable peace before taking action to improve the lives of people still struggling to survive in Darfur.
Six and a half years ago Kids for Kids had to make a decision as to whether we should stop trying to help families in the remote villages of Darfur, where we had already been supporting communities for two years, and wait for peace to return to this troubled region. I convinced my Trustees that, instead of withdrawing, as those few agencies, including the UN, who were working in the region, had done, that we should continue to do everything possible to help families, who were continuing to live in their villages, out of sight of the world. It was an emotive decision to make, because our funds come mostly from individuals, many of them children. To risk losing assets from violence, was a difficult decision.
We decided that we should continue to find all means possible to help in areas where no one else was working, because we had learnt already that even the smallest project – if it is directed properly – is so life transforming that it is worth that risk. Without the survival of village communities, can Darfur exist?
The photograph at right shows Kids for Kids goats gathered under a tree.
Two weeks ago I was in Khartoum negotiating with our implementing partners, for a further three year’s programme, because the countless reports from beneficiaries of our projects, are proof positive that Kids for Kids is transforming people’s lives right now. There are children who are six years old who have known nothing but violence in Darfur. Yet these same children are growing up healthier because of our goat’s milk, are now starting at school, and have a blanket to sleep under and a mosquito net to prevent them catching malaria. If I had listened to the specialists in Darfur people in 41 villages in Darfur would be facing a stark future, instead of telling me their lives are so much better. But the recession is hitting Kids for Kids hard. It is time to ask for help, and it is time for other agencies and governments to realise that something can be done – and indeed must be done if the villages of Darfur are to survive.
Until recently, Kids for Kids has been the only organisation funding what are called ‘development projects’. The installation of handpumps, the provision of livestock, health care for people, and for animals – and much more. These are simple, yet life transforming initiatives. One of the differences about Kids for Kids, is that we do not limit the areas that we are prepared to fund, so long as they are sustainable. In order to provide the most effective help possible, for a people whose lives are off the scale when it comes to hardship, we go and ask them what they feel are the best ways of helping them to improve their own lives. Communities identify what their needs are, and it is never just one thing – it takes a whole package of different initiatives to make a village, and every family, function effectively.
We do not implement projects ourselves – we seek out local partners with experience of working in the region, and work hard to persuade them to expand their work to cover the areas the communities need. For example, Practical Action had never before been involved with the training of midwives, but now rate it as one of the highest impact activities they do.
And it is this package, that makes the difference – by bringing together the core elements of survival, we are transforming not just individual lives, but lifting whole communities. We are empowering women to be able to make decisions for themselves, often for the first time in their lives. This is the key – we empower people to help themselves. We are not just handing out aid, creating a dependent society. We are providing sustainable projects which we do not run – we train communities to run the projects themselves.
I believe this is the major difference, I might even call it weakness, of the ways in which aid has been given to Darfur. We have the mind-set for emergency aid – patching up the disasters of the world and, yes, saving countless lives. Darfur needed that emergency sticking plaster; and the world has been doing it well. I have heard people say, that Darfur has been a success, in terms of humanitarian aid. They are right, if the only aim of the West has been to prevent the hundreds of thousands of people, forced to flee their homes, from dying. But no one envisaged that violence and instability would continue for so long, and what the consequences would be to those beyond the perimeters of the camps, living in remote villages, virtually cut off from any assistance.
The IDPs are now stuck in camps where they cannot make a living in the only way they know how – to farm the land to feed themselves – and where they continue to rely on handouts. Their tents have become huts. There is an air of permanency. In many ways, conditions are far better now than they have ever been in most remote villages. No one is starving in the camps, despite the loss of 40% of the aid provided by the thirteen aid agencies which were expelled from Darfur earlier this year.
But can humanitarian aid to Darfur be considered a success, when two thirds of the population has been forgotten? Beyond the camps, beyond the eyes of the world’s media, a forgotten three and half million people continue to struggle in conditions of inexcusable hardship. For the past six and a half years, countless families have been deprived of even the most basic help. UNICEF carried out a survey just last year, which reported that children in every single village they visited, were malnourished.
This is a bald fact to which I heard no response.
What would you consider it reasonable to ask the world to do, if this was you struggling to feed your family, out in a village in Darfur? Why is it that the world has chosen to ignore the plight of these people?
The answer, I believe, is because it is extremely difficult to provide assistance. But surely being out of sight, should not mean you can be ignored? Darfur is caught in a chicken and egg situation. There are no roads. So delivering assistance takes time and is costly. It is thousands of miles from the capital and even further from Port Sudan. Just getting to El Fasher is fraught with problems, not least the countless delays in getting permits to travel. The frustrations of the bureaucracy of Sudan, and the dangers of the journey, add days to trips, and so people just do not go. And those who do go do not venture beyond the camps. And this is true of journalists, as well as of aid workers. Time is money. To get beyond the camps, into the villages, and to spend time there, is not cost effective. So – no news, no photographs. No demand then for assistance. And so – no aid.
This picture illustrates the poverty in the huts where even children’s blankets are sold to buy medicines. Kids for Kids provides two for each hut and a mosquito net.
When we first visited Darfur in 2001 not only had no one heard of Darfur, no one was providing what was called development projects. Yet I was meeting small children who were walking for hours across the uncharted desert, to reach scarce handpumps. I took a photograph recently of women beside a hole they had dug by hand in the sand a long way from their village, the jerry cans sitting dirty beside them, as they collected the drops of life giving water. There is no talk of clean water. They had to do this, despite the chance of attack, because there is no handpump in their village, and no hope of one.
Yet it is the right of every child to have plentiful clean water. The United Nations says so. So what is being done to help those children? Where are the schools in the villages of Darfur, where are the desks, the chairs, the books – and the teachers? Why does a mother have to sell her child’s blanket to buy that child medicine? Where is the health care? Why is rope delivery not a myth for a young mother in the 21st century?
We are proving that it is not too costly to provide a people with the basics to enable them to improve their own lives, in one of the most inaccessible regions in the world, where there is no basic infrastructure – where something can be done if you have the will to do it – where there has been on going violence for over six years … and where there are now 41 Kids for Kids villages, and where we are already supporting ten more villages this year. Villages where people are returning to live, because, they tell me, they believe they are villages ‘that have a chance’.
There are over 600 villages in Darfur – surely they should have a chance too?
Patricia Parker is director of Kids for Kids.