Simona Vaclavikova writes from Darfur
"I was brought in [by the United Nations] to run a capacity-building cell within Civil Affairs. Similarly to what I did in Bosnia, we want to make civil society stronger by carrying out workshops, trainings (from basic Civic Education to Project management, conflict resolution) and by providing funding for development projects, mostly education-related, but also gender-based violence, conflict resolution, etc.
Here, in addition to community based organizations and NGOs [non-governmental organizations], we have IDP [Internally Displaced Persons] camps with local leaders (omdas [mayors] and sheiks [family or village leaders]), native administration, and transitional regional government agencies– they are all our partners and we tailor our trainings and funding to their needs.
I know it all sounds too much like UN babble, but if everything in the country falls apart, you have to start from somewhere and build the capacities from almost scratch. Apart from capacity-building, I am personally very much interested in the IDP issues, so I have broadened my scope of work to include security and UN Police involvement with the camp leaders. I hope to continue this and can’t wait to go visit other camps in more remote areas. . . I enjoy my trips to the camps. It’s sad to see the conditions, of course, but I feel the connection with the people that we’re here for – well, as much as a white European can feel connected with the locals. I always stand out, but everyone has been very welcoming and respectful. I had much worse time being recognized and respected as a woman in Kosovo. It’s always helpful to speak basic Arabic, so I’m getting there – “insha allah” [God willing]. . .
My first meeting with a group of women from one of the camps was very difficult. They were telling us about the security problems and even though they were not saying any specific stories, I could see it in their eyes – the pain, the suffering on a daily basis we cannot even imagine – I was fighting tears that whole meeting. I didn’t want to look unprofessional and cry in front of everyone, but it was just so overwhelming. I wasn’t very useful during the first half of the meeting, but I know it happens to a lot of new people here. . .
I read a very good book about Darfur. If there is one thing I could ask of you: please read that book and become more involved in Darfur issue. The book’s title is The Translator: A Tribesman’s Memoir of Darfur by Daoud Hari. I know there’s a lot of Darfur initiatives in the U.S. and Europe. Please support them in any way you can. We’re all in this together and there’s so much more to be done. Thank you. . . . Take good care of yourselves. Be well and happy, Simona."