World Vision's Gerry Austin shares the hope that lives in the midst of a forgotten humanitarian disaster.


It is often easy to hear of the atrocities taking place in different parts of the world and feel completely helpless and overwhelmed by the scale of the problem. We may feel disengaged from events overseas, unable to relate to stories that seem to bear no resemblance to our experiences in the UK. The situation in Darfur is one case in point. Sudan is the largest country in Africa, with a population of 41 million inhabitants. Over the past 50 years, the country has been plagued by war. One of the provinces affected by a conflict is Darfur, in western Sudan.

The recent heavy rains and resulting floods in parts of the UK during the wettest June and July on record meant that thousands of people have been forced to leave their homes and stay in emergency shelters. Darfur is also under threat from heavy rains through out the rainy season. The rains in Darfur are likely to cause an increase in disease, which will have disastrous consequences especially for children within the makeshift camps. Flooded areas provide an ideal breeding ground for mosquitoes that transmit malaria.

Since the conflict started in 2003, the UN estimates that 2.2 million people have fled their homes in this region. The UN estimates that 200,000 have died as a result of the conflict in Darfur. People are being forced to leave their homes. As a result individuals and families are living in vastly overcrowded makeshift camps. They are known as Internally Displaced People (IDP's). Many thousands of IDP's are unable to return to their homes, as the surrounding areas are still too dangerous and insecure to travel through.

But stories of hope are scattered amongst such tales of despair because of the work of agencies in Darfur.

Muddy main street in IDP camp Darfur
Muddy main street in IDP camp Darfur

Asha was 9 months pregnant with her fourth child when armed militia raided her home village. A number of houses were burnt to the ground. Asha's husband was shot and killed whilst other villagers were forced to flee their homes. She was one of the 'fortunate' ones who managed to escape.

Although heavily pregnant, Asha managed to walk for 10 days (covering a distance a car would take 5 hours to complete) to reach the safety of one of the 'IDP' camps. She claims that 'This was the hardest period of my entire life.' Not only was she having to cope with hearing that her husband had been tortured before he was killed, she was pregnant and had no idea if her other 3 children were safe.

Fortunately, when she made it to one of the camps, she found all three children safe and well. Almost immediately she went into labour and gave birth to a baby boy. Since then, Asha's father has found his daughter and grandchildren and the family have all moved to another of the camps to be together.

Wading across a flooded road in one of the IDP camps - the pools
create ideal breeding ground for mosquitoes
Wading across a flooded road in one of the IDP camps - the pools create ideal breeding ground for mosquitoes

It is amazing to see that despite Asha's trauma, she remains positive about the future for both herself and her family. Whilst living in one of the IDP camps she has learnt how to manufacture dakwa, (a local butter made from groundnuts). This will provide an income to help support her family both now and in the future. She is pleased that all of her children are receiving an education at the camps assisted 'child friendly space', which also gives the children an opportunity to play in a safe environment. She says that, "The child friendly spaces have kept my children from the streets and from bad influence. " Asha also praised the role of the spaces "in contributing to the growth and development of children within the camp". Asha's outlook remains positive. She looks forward to the day when she and her family can return to their village in safety and enjoy peace throughout Darfur.

To read more stories and find out more on what World Vision is doing in Darfur, visit CR

The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.