Meriam's Story, Mellit, North Darfur
Sudan - Meriam is 40 years old, and living in Mellit (N. Darfur) with her supportive husband and 4 children; they have 3 girls and one boy all under the age of 15 years old, with the youngest at 7. The area is constantly plagued with insecurity, and tribal conflicts break out numerous times a year. In Mellit locality, an inter-communal tribal conflict broke out toward the end of March, causing violence to erupt abruptly in the village. The violence resulted in 49,692 newly displaced internally displaced persons (IDPs), who were forced to flee their homes and move to communities in the north west of Mellit. With funding from the International Organization for Migration (IOM)’s Rapid Response Fund (RRF), National NGO NADA Elzhar Organisation for Disaster Prevention and Sustainable Development (NADA) undertook a field assessment of the environment, which established that the community support structures had drastically deteriorated, leaving the most vulnerable members of the population (such as children, pregnant women, disabled persons and the elderly) at risk of being further victimized during and after the conflict; The displacement had resulted in a breakdown of the traditional social fabric and long-established humanitarian community mechanisms such as community leaders committees, women’s protection committees and ‘Elmajlies’ (community-based conflict resolution mechanism).
The RRF is a USAID/OFDA grant mechanism, which is administered, managed and monitored/evaluated by IOM, and is specifically designed to provide urgent assistance to the most vulnerable communities, following their displacement. IOM recognised the critical needs of the new IDPs in Mellit, who lacked the basic humanitarian services, particularly affecting the most vulnerable people such as the children, the elderly and disabled persons. Through NADA’s successful application to IOM’s Rapid Response Fund the needs of vulnerable IDPs in the Mellit locality of North Darfur were met. NADA’s project ran from the 1st June to the 31st August 2015, and assisted 49,692 direct and 212,079 indirect beneficiaries. The assistance provided included targeted trainings sessions on child protection, women’s rights, HIV and Aids (with focus on transmission) and inter-personal violence through community as well as door to door awareness raising sessions.
NADA worked to identify and assist people with special needs, referring them to other service providers who can better support them. 1,700 dignity kits were distributed to extremely vulnerable women with items such as toothpaste, soap, clothes, female sanitary product and more.
Meriam was informed of NADA’s workshops by fellow IDPs during her travels to find a new safe and secure location for her family. When she heard that the organization was in a particular area of Mellit she decided to re-route and head for them. “Before we heard about NADA, we were moving almost weekly, from one area to the next of Mellit, hoping to find somewhere that would not be affected by the conflict. Every time we move, we would settle, and then the conflict would catch up with us. We couldn’t escape it.”
Mellit is full of thousands of women who, like Meriam, are trying by any means to provide a better future for their children. Meriam’s tone deepens as she gazes into the distance, lost in her thoughts. She turn to us and says, “The best part of the trainings was also the saddest realism. The irony is that the most useful part of the trainings were the sessions on how to avoid shrapnel, explosive remnants of war and unexploded ordinances left over from previous conflicts; the warning signs to look out for, what to do if this happens and how to maintain and protect our children. Here we are trying to protect our children and let them enjoy a childhood, yet the reality is they cannot play in the fields in case there is a mine; a bomb not yet triggered.”
NADA organization provided workshops on the rights of women and children in legal inheritance cases, raising awareness of the law relating to family inheritance. Training sessions on Inter-personal violence and how to avoid situations that leave you vulnerable to such attacks, were given to 2,000 women in Mellit. The women were informed on the exact unit of the police to approach, which is the unit for family protection. Before the trainings, the women of the village were unaware that this unit existed within the police force in their area.
“I have learnt so much more than I could have hoped from these trainings. I now feel I have more knowledge and can more securely protect my children. Beforehand, there was much I didn’t know, so I didn’t know how to tell them what to avoid, or what dangers to look out for. I am glad I now also know my own rights; I am now aware and can protect myself and my family. Since the training, I have contacted numerous family members to raise the issue of my entitlement to my fathers will. After he passed, everything was taken by my brothers, and me and my sisters were told this was correct and the way, as we now have husbands to take care of us. Now I know this is not the case and I will seek to get what is rightfully mine.”
Meriam goes on to say how she was worried at first to tell her husband about the women’s rights awareness training. “The whole group was very hesitant at first. There were some men from the village there, which made the women uncomfortable at first. However, once the men started interacting and encouraging the women, everyone became very comfortable.” After leaving the workshop, Meriam came back to tell her husband all she had learnt. She tells us how supportive he was and how he encouraged her to attend the rest of the trainings. Meriam says it will be great to have more training and workshops of many different varieties to improve women’s’ skills so they can obtain and maintain jobs, contributing to the daily income of the family. “Right now, the females in our community do not work. This can change; they want to work and want to help, and they just don’t have the skills set.”
It was also revealed that the rates of early marriage and Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) are high amongst the target group: 60 per cent of girls between 14-16 years were married and 100 per cent of the selected sample reported FGM practice. Awareness sessions on inter-personal violence were provided to 2,000 community members; 50 per cent of them female and 50 per cent male, in order to educate communities on the risks involved. Meriam explains that the training on FGM has allowed women in her village to more accurately understand the dangers and begin to slowly change their mind about it.
“Of course not everyone will listen straight away; in our culture we have been doing this for generations. But now at least they understand why the girls get sick afterwards, why some die, and they are now seeing that it is not worth the risks.”
Fifty per cent of the participants who took part in the training sessions were male, often a subject of reluctance for male members of the family. Nevertheless, Meriam tells us that the men listened and understood, with almost all of them leaving the training with the same message; “We will no longer do this to our daughters.”
Meriam talks about the need for passing down the knowledge to the next generation. When she came back from the very first day of training, she sat with her husband and together they decided what they would teach their children, and calculated how much to expose them to, as the youngest was still only just 7 years old. They did not want to frighten them, but at the same time were aware that there were very real threat affecting their lives on a daily basis.
“Before this project I had stopped dreaming, stopped hoping, stopped wishing for better. I stopped living. I am now working closely with community leaders to become a community trainer. I want to inform other women of these rights and educate them on their inheritance rights, how to protect their children and much more. I want to keep educating women, especially on gender-based issues. I know how these women feel, there are thousands of us out there, who have lost hope in a system and country that continues to fail us.”
Meriam is now actively preparing and studying to become a community trainer in her village. She is happy, balancing looking after her children, with studying further and taking part in training sessions to improve her understanding and delivery.
“I am now giving back to my community and it feels very good. I am helping those who did not receive the training to understand how much we can benefit from it as a community.”