‘Thank You for Giving us Food’

The CRS family deeply mourns the loss of our dear friend and colleague Mark Snyder, who led our Sudan program for the last four years. His steady hand guided staff and partners alike through a critical and tumultuous period in Sudan, enabling CRS to provide services to hundreds of thousands of Sudanese in Darfur, the Khartoum area and throughout the south.

Below, Neal Deles, area coordinator for CRS’ new activities in the Southern Corridor of West Darfur, shares a story from Darfur.

Darfur food

During the last two months, Catholic Relief Services has started to work in the Southern Corridor of West Darfur while continuing our activities in El Geneina and the Northern Corridor. Photo by Debbie DeVoe/CRS

Exhausted after helping to repack sugar into 55-pound bags for distribution, I sat down on a sandbag in the shade of the “rubbhall,” a large tent structure we use to store food. Our food team had been working all day to provide 5,000 people with their monthly food rations. Now I was beat.

A voice called out: “Thank you for giving us food.” I looked over and saw a young man sitting on the ground nearby, wearing a shirt with tattered sleeves and pants much too short for him. Surprised to be hearing English instead of Arabic, I managed to mutter “Welcome!” Then the teenager asked me where I was from. I soon learned that his name was Mohammed, he was 15 years old and his mother had collected their food ration earlier that afternoon.

Mohammed told me that the food we gave them today would let his family have fatour tomorrow, the midday breakfast eaten by Sudanese. Then he explained that he had a donkey cart and was waiting around hoping someone would hire him to transport their food ration so he could earn 4 Sudanese pounds (less than $2). Earlier in the day, these donkey carts had caused us some problems. Some men and boys brought the carts to carry their families’ rations home, but others got in the way, blocking the gates as they tried to offer their services to women bent double under the weight of their food sacks.

I asked Mohammed if he went to school. He said their classes had ended at around 2 p.m. and that he worked after school to earn money to pay for his teachers, which I understood to be his school fees. He was in his first year in high school. When I complimented him on his good English, he explained that he learned it at the Kalma camp for internally displaced people in South Darfur, where his family had stayed for one year after they left their village at the height of the conflict. His grandmother still lives there, but five years ago his parents decided to move to Garsila, in the southern part of West Darfur where CRS is now working.

Mohammed understood every question I asked, pausing at times to think how to respond in English. Because he now lives in another IDP camp and the high school is in the middle of town, he has to travel quite a distance each day, but he doesn’t mind. English classes aren’t taught so well, but math and Arabic are. His parents used to be farmers; now they just do menial work. Eventually one of his friends called him. He stood up, said “excuse me,” and left.

This was the first time in 10 months that I had a conversation with a Darfuri youth. When I used to walk around my prior base of El Geneina, boys and girls often asked my name or shouted out English words they learned in school—and one time a young boy offered me biscuit. But this conversation was so unexpected. As I stood up to count the remaining sacks of food, I saw Mohammed heft a 110-pound bag of wheat onto his back and start wobbling toward his donkey cart.

During the food distribution earlier that day, I had seen so many mothers and grandmothers, but I hadn’t thought about the rest of the family members who would benefit from the food rations. This day I finally understood what the food also means to the youth of Darfur. I appreciated Mohammed’s thanks, but even more, I was thankful for his courage to talk to me and for giving me new perspective on what was previously just another tedious food distribution.

– Neal Deles

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