Christian Churches from all over the world are working together to save the lives of people affected by conflict in Darfur.
A joint programme involving ACT (Action by Churches Together), a global alliance of churches and related agencies working in the field of humanitarian relief, and Caritas Internationalis has been providing essential life-saving services such as clean water, food and health care to 300,000 people living in camps, and surrounding villages, in South and West Darfur.
Nyika Musiyazwiriyo, the outgoing Head of Programmes for the Joint ACT/Caritas Programme in Darfur, says being able to work together has meant the ACT/Caritas Programme has become one of the biggest players among UN and other humanitarian actors in the conflict-affected region of Sudan.
“One of our key strengths is being able to draw on each others’ experiences, knowledge, and resources” Nyika explains.
As such, the Programme has been able to provide clean drinking water to nearly 300,000 people living in eight densely populated camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs) in South and West Darfur, as well as in villages and host communities in the areas around these camps. In the last three months alone, the programme has dug boreholes and wells, installed motorized water bladders and repaired existing water systems to provide 200,000m3 of safe drinking water to the camps – enough to fill 80 Olympic swimming pools. This means that each person living in the camps has access to 15 litres of clean, safe and portable water, every day.
The joint ACT/Caritas Programme also supports seven Primary Health Care clinics, one dispensary, one mobile clinic and five nutrition centres in West and South Darfur, providing primary health care and supplementary feeding activities to over 200,000 people. Focusing on malnourished children under five years old, and pregnant and lactating women, the aim to both improve the health and nutrition status of conflict-affected populations. In addition to consultations and curative services, the programme also provides vaccinations, antenatal and postnatal clinics, de-worming for children, the provision of nutrient supplements, and runs health and hygiene awareness raising campaigns.
Pulling on local strengths
But, Nyika believes, the success of the programme lies not just in the global collaboration of churches, but also in its partnership with local organisations. SudanAid, the relief and development wing of the Sudan Catholic Bishops’ Conference, and Sudan Council of Churches, an umbrella organisation representing all Christian Churches in Sudan (Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant) are both key partners, and core actors, within the ACT/Caritas Darfur Programme.
“I’d say that working in partnership with local organisations offers a unique strength to the Programme,” says Nyika.
“While international organisations are often seen as ‘outsiders’, working with local organisations means that the ACT/Caritas programme is more readily accepted by communities. Being able to speak the language, knowing the area, and being part of the community, mean it is easier to start talking to people about complex and divisive issues such as human rights. Local organisations bring a local perspective and understanding that cannot be imported.”
This combination of global reach and local knowledge, Nyika says, can be a powerful one. Nyika said, “Such collaboration between ACT and Caritas has the potential to make a significant impact in world affairs, more so than if operating as single entities. The impact of this cooperation is clearly seen in Darfur where the ACT/Caritas programme has become one of the biggest interventions by a single alliance.
“This shows that these organisations can accomplish so much if they cooperate. Working together, ACT/Caritas has the ability to mobilise one of the world’s largest constituencies – Christians of all denominations across the globe. But this doesn’t always happen – in many ways we are like a sleeping giant. We need to wake the giant up more often to take advantage of this collective strength.”
And, Nyika believes the ACT/Caritas giant is best placed to keep the issue of Darfur alive.
She said, “As donor interest drops, yet little progress is made to secure peace in the region, it is up to all of us to keep Darfur on the international agenda. At the moment it seems there is a contradiction between what we as humanitarian actors have achieved, and what still needs to be done.
“Without peace and the ability to go home, people will remain in the camps – their situation will not change. We will keep providing the essential services, but we need the support of the international community, not just for funding, but in seeking a peaceful solution to the conflict.
“Without funds we cannot continue supporting the millions of internally displaced people. Without security, and the right conditions that support their return, suffering will continue.
“We cannot let people forget what’s needed here.”