Thursday, March 27, 2008

Darfur survivor visits WHS

Marwa Abdalla, 19, grew up in Darfur.  Before the war began, "It was really peaceful and beautiful."  However, she saw first-hand the causes of the current conflict.

"It was difficult," she says of her life before the fighting broke out.
Darfur was a region populated by farmers of African, not Arabic, descent.  Marwa's father was one of those farmers.
"One of my family went to school," because they could not afford to educate all nine children
"So we have to stay home and help my father with his stuff...We had little but we were happy with it."
But Marwa knew her hometown was poor compared to other areas of the Sudan, particularly the wealthy area around the capital, Khartoum.  The other regions of the nation had, as she puts it, "everything."
"How come we don't have everything?" wondered the people of Darfur.
Two groups arose, the Sudanese Liberation Army and the Justice and Equality Movement, and the rebels criticized the Sudanese government for neglecting the region.  The government responded with the violence that continues today.
"They start burning the houses and then they kill you."
Marwa was horrified at the violence that engulfed the region.
"They want to kill us slowly," she says of the Janjaweed, who attacked each village with fire, rape, and murder.
"When everything started, I ran away.  Everyone ran away...I don't know where some of them are," referring to her family.
"I don't know if my brother or sister is alive.  My mother is alive."
Marwa and her family members first fled to Chad, then Khartoum.  They later lived in Egypt for a time, where Marwa learned English.  One of her sisters was living in the US, and paid for her family's trek there.
Marwa currently attends Portland High School in Maine.  This afternoon, she came to Wakefield High School to tell her story, accompanied by Catherine Wagner, a Student Outreach Coordinator for Save Darfur.  They encouraged the students not to ignore the story like the mainstream media.
As Marwa puts it, "The more you talk about it, the more people are going to know."
"More people are going to learn about what's going on."
Save Darfur pressures powerful nations to take action in the region.  Catherine called UNAMID a "mostly ceremonial" changing of the guard from the previous African Union peacekeeping force.
"The guys changed their helmets from green to blue."
As regular readers of this site's Darfur updates know, UNAMID has encountered many problems since its deployment.  President Bush has condemned the violations of human rights, but the US has yet to help the UN in its mission.
"They do need to do more," Marwa says of the US government.
But even this pressure group knows the possible consequences of American intervention.  Catherine explained that an American invasion of Darfur would be against international law.  The UNAMID force has struggled to keep the peace without help from a superpower, but has managed to provide some relief.  There are several rebel groups in Darfur, all of whom need to agree with the government and each other on terms of an end to the war.  Meanwhile, armies continue to burn down villages, rape young women, and kill the civilians of the region.
Marwa is tired of constantly relocating, frequently starting a new life in a new part of the world.  She misses her hometown, the home of her family, the place where she grew up.  Once this conflict dies down, she "would love to go home."
But, as she puts it, "Back home is going to take a long time."

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