ICRC delegates in Darfur: diverse backgrounds, a common compassion
The portraits of four ICRC delegates working to help those affected by the violence in Darfur; all from very different backgrounds but whose ambition to help others is rooted in their experience and knowledge of conflict. By Marco Jiménez Rodríguez.
ICRC delegates in Darfur
ICRC delegates often work in difficult circumstances and those posted to Darfur over the last couple of years have been confronted with one of the world's gravest humanitarian crises.
It has necessitated the ICRC's biggest deployment in the world with more than 200 expatriate and 1800 local staff working to alleviate the worst consequences of the conflict there.
The following are the stories of four ICRC delegates whose backgrounds couldn't be more different but whose commitment to the humanitarian cause is rooted in their own experience of warfare.
Charlie : " If I can guarantee a good infrastructure to support my colleagues, then I am making a contribution to help victims of this conflict."
Dragana : "Many humanitarian organizations distribute aid; the question is how to do it in a way that restores dignity"
Caridad : "The reliability of the information I gather is largely dependent on the relationships and trust you build with people"
Samir : "It touches my heart to see all these people in need, my parents were refugees as well."
Administrator and logistician, Charlie Musoka ensures that everything is in good working order in the remote ICRC office of Seleia, north of Geneina.
Born in Goma in today's Democratic Republic of Congo in 1973, he was caught up in the wake of the Rwandan genocide in 1994. During this period, Charlie worked as a volunteer for a humanitarian agency that was distributing food aid to some 250,000 Rwandan refugees that had crossed the frontier.
" Before 1994, I knew nothing of humanitarian work, " he says, " Overnight, I was overwhelmed by refugees in need of help – that's when I discovered my humanitarian vocation. "
He later studied business administration in Kenya before obtaining a scholarship to continue specialised studies in public administration and international development at a Canadian university.
Working for the Canadian Red Cross, he took part in emergency responses to humanitarian crises in Grenada, Haiti and Jamaica.
This is his first mission with the ICRC. Seleia is one of the organization's most isolated field offices, aimed at helping victims of the conflict in remote rural areas of the region. On a good day, the 76 kilometres from Geneina can be covered in around four hours – on a bad day it can take much longer.
Food and many other essentials of daily life have to be brought in from Khartoum and, until several weeks ago, the staff were still living in tents.
" At the beginning it was difficult, " admits Charlie, " People have high expectations of my work but if I can guarantee a good infrastructure to support my colleagues, then I am making a contribution to help victims of this conflict. "
" If we were not here, people would face even greater difficulties to survive. "
The conflict in Darfur has disrupted the normal patterns of food production – planting in July and harvesting three months later is no longer possible for much of the population.
At the end of July, 60 ICRC employees took part in the first distribution of this kind to take place in Seleia. It was organized by Dragana Rankoviç.
Thirty-four year old Dragana was born in Belgrade and started working for the ICRC in 1999 on an assistance programme for those displaced during the conflict in the former Yugoslavia. In 2003, she worked in the implementation of an ICRC programme that targeted poverty-stricke n families not covered by the social security system.
After years of working in this field, Dragana says that how you provide the assistance is often as important as the assistance itself.
" I have learned that it is important to send a message of respect. Many humanitarian organizations distribute aid; the question is how to do it in a way that restores dignity. "
Dragana says that despite the situation in Darfur and the challenges of working in such an isolated spot, the rewards are immense.
" In spite of what may be happening around you, you feel welcome when people recognize you and show their gratitude. "
She will one day leave Darfur she says knowing that she tried her best to help.
A 32 year old lawyer from Madrid, Caridad Castilla Ramírez, has been in West Darfur for barely seven weeks.
She has already visited around 20 towns around Geneina. Her field trips last between 2 to 4 days, sleeping in the open in the barren beauty that makes up much of the landscape.
As an ICRC field delegate, Caridad's work consists of assessing the most urgent needs of those affected by the conflict.
" The reliability of the information I gather is largely dependent on the relationships and trust you build with people, " she explains.
Back in Spain, Caridad worked with asylum seekers for more than two years.
In Darfur, she says the ICRC's visits to villages are considered a form of protection.
" The ICRC's presence reminds all parties of their obligations under international humanitarian law. People feel safer, they manage to fetch wood in safety, they work the land again. "
After just seven weeks, she has also seen the difficulties that confront humanitarian workers and says it is hard to realize that they cannot do everything expected of them.
But she says she feels that people are left with hope and that it is important to promote the message that wars too have limits.
" In Spain I grew up hearing about all my grandparents and their generation had to endure during the Spanish Civil War between 1936 and 1939; the blockade of cities, families separated by the frontlines and exile and death everywhere. Though humanitarian assistance was available, it was not what it is today " .
" Ojala, " (Inshaallah/God Willing), she says, " My work will be useful. "
Access to the remoter parts of Darfur where many of the most vulnerable are to be found is extremely difficult.
Roads are few and far between, even gravel tracks are rare and wadis dried out in temperatures that reach 45 degrees Celsius are a treacherous part of the landscape where cars and trucks can all too easily sink.
In these conditions Samir Qazzaz drives ICRC lorries that deliver food and other essential materials throughout West Darfur.
" We are on the borderline of the Sahara desert, " says Samir " The heat can be quite unbearable. You have to have a good supply of water and drink an average of 4 litres a day. "
In the rainy season, it's greener and there's less heat but the logistical problems don't go away, they just become different.
" You are always getting stuck somewhere because of the amount of water in the wadis. The question is how long you'll have to stay there – it depends on the amount of rain there's been. "
Samir arrived in West Darfur in April this year and has completed around 30 distributions since then.
" It touches my heart to see al these people in need, " he says, " I sympathise with them. My parents were refugees as well, arriving in Jordan from Jerusalem in 1948 with nothing. "
" Someone was there to help them. I am happy to be able to do the same for others. "