Editor's note: Three weeks ago, we asked Collins, a World Vision communicator in Zambia, to write about his recent experience in Sudan, supporting World Vision's office there. His reply: "My experience in Sudan makes me feel as though I should write a book, because it is something I have never experienced in my life before. You have really asked for the blog at the right time." As South Sudan prepares to celebrate its independence as Africa's newest country on July 9, we continue to to offer assistance to this conflict-weary region.
Indelible memories of the suffering I saw in Darfur have followed me since the day I left Sudan for Zambia. My mind and heart are still attached to the people of Sudan, especially the children. I have seen suffering and poverty in Zambia and other places in Africa -- but not of the magnitude I saw when I visited Darfur’s camps for internally displaced people (IDPs).
All I used to hear were stories. I never used to think it was that bad -- until I saw the reality at Otash camp, near Nyala, the capital city of South Darfur, Sudan, where displaced families have migrated for safety.
Otash is the home of more than 150,000 IDPs. Visiting this place changed my life forever. My understanding of the meaning of peace has changed. So has my understanding about how devastating war is on people’s lives.
It is hard to reckon the suffering and the need.
I heard stories of devastated families that moved my heart. I could not imagine how hard their lives would be and how they would survive without World Vision and the support of a few other organizations.
Never before have I had an opportunity to hear sad stories firsthand from children affected by war, like Heawa. Her story is among those that touched my heart most.
Heawa with her young sister Maka wait to be attended to at a health clinic in Sudan. ©2010 Collins Kaumba/World Vision
Heawa is one of thousands of children in Darfur who have experienced trauma. At the age of 8, she saw people being killed, houses being burnt, and people running for their lives -- things she couldn't understand. At this point, I imagined my own child going through such an experience, and how it would impact her in the future.
In a blink of an eye, Heawa’s life changed completely. She lost her childhood joy and the opportunity to receive an education and shape her own future, as God intended. If peace does not soon return to Darfur, she may never again enjoy a youth of freedom and peace.
Thinking of what happened to Heawa, I couldn't imagine what I would do as her parent -- especially after the family lost all that they had worked for over the years.
One time, in an interview with some beneficiaries of World Vision’s health and food programs in Sudan, I felt guilty when I asked them what their lives would be like without World Vision’s assistance.
“Why are you asking such a question," they replied, "when you know that we would be dead by now without World Vision being here to assist us since 2004, when the situation was worse than now? We would be dead without the food, health, water, and everything else World Vision is doing for us.”
Their hope is simply amazing in the face of their suffering. Indeed, World Vision means a lot to the IDPs. This is what soothes my heart when I think of the dark side of their lives in the camps, where they would have almost nothing to survive on if our organization and others were not there.
Their hope is alive; not all is lost. They believe freedom is coming their way.
Collins with his wife, Kathryn, and daughter, Sakwila, in their hometown in Zambia. Photo courtesy of Collins Kaumba.
My gratitude goes to the donors who have not given up on them. The world is huge, but their minds and hearts are with those in Sudan. Children like Heawa will remember the works of World Vision. Despite her sad story, she is alive.
Through my experience in Sudan, I have learned to appreciate the importance of peace, which is the source of freedom. I tell myself that all man needs is to live life as God intended -- and this is only possible if one has freedom and peace. The children of Darfur are struggling and hoping that one day their social, political, and economic freedom will come, just as all parents would hope for their children.
May God bless World Vision donors for the hope they are bringing to the children of Darfur. One day, they will see light at the end of the tunnel.