A few hours ago, my fellow JWW board member, Diana Buckhantz, and I boarded an Air France jet to begin our journey to the Farchana Refugee Camp near the Chad/Darfur border. One of the purposes of our trip is to visit Jewish World Watch's fourth and newest Solar Cooker Project site serving the 30,000 Darfuri genocide survivors now living in Farchana. They ended up there after having been forced from their villages by the brutal Janjaweed militiamen who raped, pillaged and killed as they decimated the black African-Muslim population of Darfur.
I look forward to meeting the survivors in Farchana, and I feel certain that they will welcome us warmly; the Farchana refugees receive almost no visitors or foreign journalists due to the utter remoteness of the camp and the lack of access roads or transportation. With no visitors, the refugees in Farchana have, no doubt, had little opportunity to give voice to their stories of grief, sadness, loss and triumph. As we will bear witness to these powerful first hand accounts of this genocide, we will be assuming a dual responsibility: to take action to help support the people we meet; and to fulfill our Jewish World Watch mission to mobilize people of conscience to take serious legislative and social action against genocide. It is a heavy responsibility to meet with genocide survivors, especially when the genocide is on-going and its survivors are almost completely invisible.
I have been to this region before. Five years ago I travelled to the Iridimi and Touloum refugee camps. A key purpose of that first trip was to inspect and evaluate the impact of our very first Solar Cooker Project site. We had started the Solar Cooker Project, now in its seventh year, when we learned of the rapes of the girls and women that would occur when they would leave the relative safety of the refugee camps in search of firewood needed to cook for their families. We met hundreds of women as we conducted a camp-wide evaluation of our project. We were also given a chance to meet, in private outside of the presence of men, the women employed by the SCP.
We spent an unforgettable day sitting on the sandy floor of the SCP manufacturing plant sharing stories. We were curious about their lives before the genocide began, before they were forced out of their villages, out of their country and into a refugee camp in a foreign land. One by one they told us their stories -- something they had never done before. Zanuba told us of her three little girls, murdered by acts of rape which she was forced to watch; Farah told us how she was forced to watch as her husband was castrated in front of her; and many bowed their heads in acknowledgement of the invasions their own bodies had endured. Each woman's story was more devastating than the one before.
When all of their stories were complete, they asked to hear our stories. They rarely if ever received guests in those camps, and they wanted to know who we were. We explained that we were three Jewish women traveling with an anti-genocide organization to bear witness and lend support. We then each told the story of our family -- parents or grandparents brutally victimized by anti-Semites in Russia or Poland or Germany. We told them about the Holocaust, which had impacted each of the three of us in varying degrees of intimacy. At the end of our stories, Zanuba and Farah and the other 15 Darfuri women were crying and hugged us in what I can only describe as utter sisterhood. With no more words, they understood why we cared and why we had travelled half way around the world to comfort them, to bear witness to their suffering, and to assure them that their voices are heard and will be carried back to our homes.
That encounter in 2007 remains vividly etched in my mind and heart, as it proved to me, in the most intimate way, the extraordinary value of our work. As I anticipate the next several days of journey to meet the women of the Farchana camp, I cannot help but wonder how these Darfuri survivors who lost their homes, their land, their children, their husbands -- in essence, everything they knew and loved - they are today. It is so extraordinary that I have the opportunity to meet these survivors first-hand and to give voice to women whose words and stories might otherwise not be heard. And, I remain mindful that along with this opportunity comes responsibility -- a responsibility that I share with any person whose conscience mandates that they "Not Stand Idly By." Stay tuned.
Janice Kamenir-Reznik is the Co-Founder and President of Jewish World Watch (JWW), a leading organization in the fight against genocide and mass atrocities worldwide. JWW's work is currently focused on the ongoing crises in Sudan and Congo. Janice is currently traveling along with Diana Buckhantz, JWW Board Member, on a site visit to the JWW Solar Cooker Project in the Farchana refugee camp in eastern Chad, home to approximately 30,000 Darfuri refugees.