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Sudan: family reunion brings light to blind man's life

07-09-2007 Feature

The protracted conflict in Darfur has separated thousands of people from their families over several decades. Salih Ashgar, 78, is one of the victims. He fled for his life, found shelter in various camps, most of the time on his own. His hardship took a turn for the worse the day he became blind. Since being reunited with his brother after 24 years of separation, light and hope have returned to Salih's life.

   
  ©ICRC/C. Goin    
 
  Salih Ashgar at the ICRC residence.    
     
 

   
  ©ICRC/C. Goin    
 
  Salih and his brother embrace after more than twenty years of separation.    
     
 

   
  ©ICRC/C. Goin    
 
  Soad Dawood, the Sudanese Red Crescent volunteer who wrote the first letter to Salih's brother.    
      

On this night in July 2007, heavy rain was pouring over Sereif camp in the suburbs of Nyala, South Darfur. Among the crowd of displaced people, Salih Ashgar had something to rejoice in: he knew that it was the last night he was to spend in this place, where he had ended up in October 2004 in order to escape the brutality of armed conflict.

" The Darfur conflict affects thousands of people like me in so many different ways... I was a farmer and herder in a village called Habila. I saved my life the day I fled, but I lost everything else, " says Salih.

Salih belongs to the Bani Halba, one of the largest Arab tribes in West Darfur. He was born in Habila 78 years ago. He had lived there for many years. But overnight, his life changed dramatically. When his village was attacked, he first moved to Zalingei, then to Domaya camp, and finally to Sereif camp.

He thought that all these moves would somehow bring stability and peace to his life. But shortly after his arrival in Sereif camp, he started to suffer from eye problems. As he could not afford to see a doctor, his eyesight deteriorated steadily until he lost his sight entirely in 2005. 

 Take me, I am an old man  

" Life in the camp is often difficult for me. Since I don't see anymore, I need someone to assist me if I want to clean myself or cook or get my food ration every month. Without my neighbours, I guess I would not have survived, " says Salih.

    

One day, Soad Dawood, a Sud anese Red Crescent volunteer, met Salih in his tent and asked him about his family. " When he told me he had a brother in Sinnar, I offered to write a Red Cross message for him so he could get in touch with his family. It was wonderful when Salih received his brother's reply shortly after this. And when the ICRC asked him if he wished to be reunited with his brother, he was full of joy. Tears welled up in his tired eyes, it was such a special moment for him, " she said.

Salih still remembers the first words of his message to Mohammed:   " I miss you my brother. I am 78 years old. Please take me with you, I am an old man and I need your help and care. "    

" Red Cross messages give people separated from their loved ones hope for a better future. In addition, we try to reunite vulnerable persons, like Salih, with their families who can take care of them, " added Soad.

    

Salih was consumed by mixed feelings before leaving the camp forever. He was certain he would not see his neighbours again. They had become his friends. Many women and children were bowing good-bye to him, crying tears of both joy and sadness as he left in an ICRC vehicle for the airport.

    

For the first time in his life, Salih took a plane. Destination: Khartoum, just one little step before seeing his brother Mohammed. The sky was cloudless. He could not see the beautiful view through the small window but he did feel the sun gently warming his face. The trip was calm and peaceful, as if the blue skies were celebrating with him this important moment in his life.

 A dream come true  

The road from Khartoum to Sinnar was a five-hour drive. " This is an important day for all of us, not just for Salih. We are extremely happy to share this moment with him, " explained Bushari Abdoun, an ICRC field officer. 

At the same time, waiting in the courtyard of his humble home, his brother Mohammed felt increasingly nervous. He had imagined many times the moment he would hold Salih in his arms after 24 years of separation. 

On the way to Sinnar, Salih remained calm. His wish to be brought back together with his family was about to materialize. He had waited for so long to be reunited with his brother, to talk to him, to share the rest of his life with him. The ICRC car stopped in front of Mohammed's house.

Salih slowly got out of the car. He walked towards Mohammed with the help of Bushari. Mohammed extended his arms until he held Salih's hands. A long awaited hug full of tears and joy came next. 

" I lost my wife and my two sons long ago. My whole existence has been filled with sadness, but today I have been brought back to life. I don't mind if I die tomorrow. I am not alone anymore. I am with my brother at last. This is a dream come true, " said Salih.