Nasser Nasser, AP
"Dear friends," the post begins. "We have a proverb that says, 'If I am near you, don’t look at the sky.' That means, when I (come) to you with a problem, don’t be silent from me."
The post is from Tarbosh, a Darfuri refugee and schoolteacher in eastern Chad and one of more than 4 million displaced by the decade-long conflict in Darfur, Sudan. As part of the Darfur Dream Team program started by NBA player Tracy McGrady in 2007, Tarbosh and his students, as well as schools from 11 other refugee camps in eastern Chad, post in a closed forum and communicate with more than 300 "sister schools" in the U.S.
"They're feeling that they're being forgotten, that their stories are not being told anymore," said Olabukunola Williams, program manager in Washington, D.C. "It's more important now than ever to talk about what's going on and why."
Yet the conversation about Darfur is happening less and less. This spring marks the tenth anniversary since the Darfur genocide first received international attention. But despite international outcry and a massive awareness campaign, the region is still threatened and its people remain scattered. As violence continues, lessons learned, if there are any, are unclear and a way forward remains murky — and with so much else requiring attention, international will remains small.
A history of violence
Naedi Ahmadi left her native Darfur almost 10 years ago, after the Sudanese military cracked down on two rebel groups in the region by unleashing Arab militias called the Janjaweed on the sedentary, largely African civilians in the area. An activist and volunteer who was working to bring attention to what she refers to as "indiscriminate violence," Ahmadi had to escape Sudan after two attempts on her life.
She is one of many. With upwards of 300,000 deaths in Darfur, millions of Darfuris have fled the region, many landing in refugee camps in Chad and Ethiopia, others going from place to place within Sudan searching for safety from what the United Nations Human Rights Council calls "a campaign of mass killing, rape, and pillage."
Today, things are largely the same as when Ahmadi left, if not worse. She is now a director of global partnerships for United to End Genocide, and despite her efforts and the attempts of many others, Janjaweed attacks on civilians continue to burn villages and homes and to displace and kill the non-Arab Sudanese in Darfur.
"In the last two years, Darfur has witnessed more violence than any time recently," Ahmadi said. "Last month 50,000 (more) refugees fled to Chad — this hasn't happened since 2006. Over 100,000 were displaced within Darfur in the first quarter of 2013."
What is different from a decade ago is a lack of attention and information. In 2009, Sudan President Omar al-Bashir kicked international and humanitarian organizations out of the region, making it difficult not only to provide aid, but to obtain accurate information of current conditions in Darfur.
When asked to name organizations that still have a presence in the region, Ahmadi struggles — not because of a lack of knowledge, but because the presence is so limited. Even Oxfam and CARE, known for assisting even in the most dangerous locales, are operating in a severely limited capacity in Darfur. And with less information comes less attention.
"Since the expulsion in 2009, there is a constant problem of lack of access," Ahmadi said. "The ones expulsed are the more effective ones. The government of Sudan has been successful in terms of isolating Darfur, blocking media, blocking information access, so they can get away with murder."
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