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Tuesday December 20, 2005

A touch of Mercy in West Darfur


EL-GENEINA (Sudan): At first glance, this city of some two million people looks like a sleepy hollow in the middle of the hot deserts of western Sudan. 

However, things are not as they seem as it is the capital of the conflict-ridden region of West Darfur.  

Labelled as the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, the two-year-old Darfur tragedy has killed some four million people, while over two million people had been forced to flee their villages.  

Militiamen known as the Janjaweed have been blamed for many of the attacks on villages where people were ruthlessly killed, belongings stolen and houses burnt. 

TIME OUT: Surgery room nurses taking a break outside the new reproductive health unit of the El-Geneina Hospital in West Darfur recently. The unit was built and equipped by Mercy Malaysia using money donated by the Malaysian public.
Last year, the haunting images of malnourished and disease-stricken Darfur children, captured by The Star photographer Art Chen, moved the hearts of many Malaysians. 

Shocked by stories and pictures of horror and death, they generously donated some RM1.53mil to The Star Darfur Children’s Fund during its two-month campaign to raise funds to aid Mercy Malaysia’s humanitarian relief programme in West Darfur.  

With the money donated by Malaysians, Mercy built two camps to house some 120,000 people displaced by the fighting.  

There are some 20 camps in El-Geneina and the influx of people has pushed the small town’s population to about two million.  

With no job or money, those living in the camps rely completely on food rations from the United Nations World Food Programme. 

Mercy also built a reproductive health unit at the hospital here – the first of its kind in the Darfur region – to aid pregnant women and those with gynaecological problems.  

Mercy also extended the hospital’s maternity ward and helped with a nutritional feeding programme for children. 

Mercy Malaysia chief operating officer Shareen Datuk Abdul Ghani said classrooms were built to help women and children get pre-school and adult literacy education. 

However, because of escalating violence in recent months, NGOs have been pulling out, causing villagers to worry about their future.  

Mercy will be leaving West Darfur by March because of lack of funds. Their projects will be handed to locals. 

“We’re happy with what we have achieved. It’s sad that we can’t stay any longer to help them unless funds come in. They still need a lot of help,” said Mercy country manager for Sudan Anita Ahmad.  

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