November 1, 2007
Bearing witness a world away from L.A.
Wrap-up from JWW's visit to Darfur refugees in Chad
(Page 3 - Previous Page)Today we cried. We have sat with small and large groups of Darfuri refugees for the last several days and talked about solar cooking, with the details of the horrors that brought us together silently hanging in the air. Today, however, we looked into the sad dark eyes of our refugee sisters and listened to their tales of horror.
Zanuba is 25 years old. She is a beautiful young woman with three small children who has aspirations to come to America. She has been living in the Touloum refugee camp for two years. When her village was attacked by aerial bombing, and then by the Janjaweed militia, they ran. Many were able to get to the nearby wadi (a dry riverbed), but many more were killed, including a woman who had gone into labor with twins and could not run. The men were primary targets, so they tried to hide by wrapping themselves in scarves like the women -- but the Janjaweed forced everyone to remove their head coverings and killed the men on the spot. Many young women were tied up and raped until they died. Other women were put into trees that were lit on fire until they divulged the whereabouts of their men. And in one of the most gruesome stories I have ever heard, the Janjaweed decapitated several people and used the heads to form a "three stone fire."
As Zanuba shared her painful story and the stories of the other women in the room, tears streamed down our faces. I was overwhelmed, not only by their suffering and loss, but by the ability of human beings to use their superior abilities to inflict unspeakable and evil acts on one another.
As we spent our last night in Iriba thinking about all we had seen and heard, one of our UNHCR colleagues asked me if I felt this experience had "changed me." I'm quite convinced that the personal impact of this visit will continue to unfold in the weeks and months to come, but my initial response is of course. How can I go back to my life, my hectic, wonderful life without hearing the voice of Zanuba in my head?
Touloum, Oct. 21
... Above all, I was yet again overwhelmed by the boundless capacity of human beings. The capacity of humans to commit unspeakable evil, and the countervailing capacity for healing. The capacity for those exposed to the greatest of evils on our planet to be able to regain their trust in people. The capacity for survivors of horrific cruelty to be able to laugh again. The capacity of women, who have watched their daughters tortured and murdered in front of their eyes, to give birth again to new life. The capacity of people who live in a Godforsaken place to feel hopeful about tomorrow.
Los Angeles, Oct. 25
We have been home for 24 hours. While our sadness persists (and lingering nausea plagues our innards), we also feel a growing sense of amazement and pride at the positive impact our JWW projects have had on the refugees.
The Solar Cooker Project has played a vital role at the Iridimi camp in decreasing dependence upon firewood. While the evaluation report is not yet complete, there is no question in our minds, after speaking with hundreds of refugees at Iridimi, that the project is successful. It has reduced the need for firewood so significantly that there is little or no need to search for firewood outside the camp and risk assault. The increased safety and security of the women is beyond our original hopes and expectations.
While this trip focused on evaluating the Solar Cooker Project, our experience there spoke volumes about the importance of our other JWW-funded projects in other refugee camps. We saw firsthand evidence of the critical importance of our work to build medical clinics, to support a psycho-social counselor for trauma victims, and to expand the "She Speaks, She Listens" radio program that educates and empowers women, particularly about gender-based violence issues.
And, having seen the thousands of children at Iridimi and Touloum and their total lack of anything, we are thrilled beyond words with the JWW backpack project [which will provide school and basic hygiene supplies for the kids]. If only we could all be there the day they distribute the backpacks to the children!!!!
... What we saw on our trip strongly validated the success of the Solar Cooker Project in helping to minimize the need for firewood among the refugees. Each of us feels renewed enthusiasm for the work of JWW and more passion than ever about the vital importance of our mission, one borne of the ancient teachings of our people, which are as relevant today as they were when originally fashioned. We are so proud of our Jewish World Watch community and how they choose to live the words of the Torah: "Do not stand idly by ..."
-- Janice Kamenir-Reznik, Tzivia Schwartz-Getzug and Rachel Andres JewishJournal.com published a live, unabridged day-to-day journal of the trip, with many more photos here.
For more information on JWW or to support the organization's work, go to http://www.jewishworldwatch.org.