It’s a good thing militant Islamists have a knack for spin. When al-Qaeda-linked insurgents declared that France had “opened the gates of hell” with its assault in Mali, it offered up a headline opportunity to news media around the world.
Any attention paid to this part of Africa brings a whimper of hope for those living where the gates of hell have been swinging wide open for some time: the borderland in Sudan. It’s 3,000 kilometres from Mali, where international troops are currently focused – a man-made famine zone where Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir has been orchestrating a humanitarian catastrophe that has affected more than 800,000 people.
In September, Canadian writers Gerald Caplan and Amanda Grzyb wrote in The Globe and Mail about the efforts of 66 genocide scholars (including themselves) from 10 countries to demand help for the people suffering in the state of Blue Nile and the Nuba Mountains region of South Kordofan, which border newly independent South Sudan. “We can clearly see the tragic cost of the world’s collective inaction,” they wrote, detailing the famine and state-sponsored violence against civilians there.
Efforts to enact the Responsibility to Protect, the United Nations doctrine that says humanity has a duty to defend innocent civilians, is mired in the mysteries of why governments choose the locations they do and why our appetite for such stories is eclipsed by entertainment and ease. Where is a caring God when you need one? I suppose the answer is readily available in something quite germane to our Canadian psyche.
Since June, 2011, Mr. al-Bashir has effectively banned all international humanitarian access to these areas. Many Canadian charities are doing their work off the record in order to safeguard their access.
The charity workers we do know about are the kind of Canadians we admire. For example, there is 29-year-old Anne Amirthanayagam of Toronto. She was doing customer data research when she felt a nagging need for something different. By Skype, I caught up with her this week at the Yida refugee camp on the South Sudanese side of the border, where she works as a logistics co-ordinator for Samaritan’s Purse Canada.
“Many children have passed away because of malnutrition,” she told me, noting the 1,200 new registrants in her camp of 65,000, which is about 20 kilometres from the war zone. “There was a lot of aerial bombardment in December. People come as they can get out. Most have very young children and are pretty malnourished.”
Canadian donors to Samaritan’s Purse are paying for the camp’s water and sanitation needs. Ms. Amirthanayagam also manages World Food Program logistics for the delivery of food, which is limited to sorgum, oil, salt and lentils. “It’s pretty basic – vegetables are rare,” she said. There are still no schools, but refugees have created mosques and churches.
It was Christ’s call that drew Ms. Amirthanayagam to Yida, she said, but she’s discovering something indomitable in the people there.
“Nubian people are a pretty amazing group. They are hard workers, they have a strong entrepreneurial spirit about them, and I see a lot of joy in them. If this was North America, I don’t think we’d be reacting to the challenges like they have.”
Oh, that the people of this camp and the thousands trapped in Sudan could one day soon say the same about us and how we responded to the news of their plight.
Lorna Dueck is host of Context TV, seen Sundays on Global and Vision TV.