Sudanese youth and refugee volunteers team up to help people fleeing Khartoum
They belonged to a local youth group made up mostly of university students that had been involved in various community activities before the war, including tree planting and feeding the homeless. But they had never had to deal with an emergency of this scale. They transformed their former primary school into a temporary shelter for displaced Sudanese and refugees and collected donations from the local community to provide them with food.
Eventually, some of the volunteers started returning to their families and busy lives, said Abdelraheem. “That’s when we needed people from the community inside the school to work in their new home. We formed a new committee and new crew to manage the centre.”
Six months later, the group, composed of 10 members, including five women, provides daily meals and water to the 360 people crammed into the Bandar Primary School, which has been closed to pupils since the conflict started.
“Services here are provided as much as we can,” said Abdelraheem. “We are all young – the youngest is 14 years old – but with a big mindset. We try to never fall short.”
The volunteers run a central kitchen, where they take turns to prepare breakfast, lunch and dinner. They also identify and refer the sick and vulnerable to aid agencies that provide them with treatment and psychosocial counselling.
Since fighting between two rival military factions erupted in Khartoum on 15 April and quickly spread to other parts of the country, the conflict has forced more than 5.8 million people from their homes, including more than 1 million who have sought safety in neighbouring countries. With no end in sight to the violence and relief efforts severely underfunded, volunteers like Abdelraheem and his friends are struggling to cope with shortages of water, food, and medicine.
“Our biggest challenge is food,” he said. “But we go to ministries, and NGOs, to ask for support. No one will provide it right away, but we have our reserve. We go out and search for people who would donate and support.”
UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, is coordinating with other partners to provide essential humanitarian assistance to displaced people, including protection, shelter, water, food and medicine.
“Community volunteers like these young students are vital for our emergency response, especially at times when resources are so stretched,” said Zolfa Osman, an associate field officer with UNHCR. “They know the challenges their community is facing, and they have direct contact with them, which makes it easier for us to communicate with them.”
Abdelraheem and his team start their day by walking through the centre talking to families who are sleeping on the floor under UNHCR-provided tents.
“The crew you see here are 99.9 per cent from the camp,” he said, pointing to some of the young volunteers who live in the centre, “All of us, our ages are similar, and our ideas are close…. All these people collaborated to help and protect their families and kids who are here.”
Luai Mowafag, a Syrian refugee who had been living in Khartoum for eight years before the conflict started, recently began organizing classes for the children of families staying at the school.
“I escaped the war [in Syria] and came to Sudan to take my kid out of the environment of war,” he said, adding that his son, now aged 17, returned to Syria for a visit shortly before the start of the fighting and remained there. “These kids are as important to me as my son.”
He teaches the children basic literacy and numeracy and said the classes offer them not just the opportunity to continue their education, but a safe space where they can heal from the traumas of war.
“I started this initiative for two reasons, [first] for the sake of God, and [secondly] it is a small attempt from me to pay back a little of the courtesy of this nation,” he said. “The Sudanese people hosted us, and I am one of the people who stayed for eight years. I did not go back after this war started. I have a debt that I will try to repay.”
Despite the enormous challenges, Abdelraheem remains optimistic about Sudan’s future.
“Sudan is a great country, even if it completely went down, it is still a country loved by everyone,” he said. “Sudan will stand again; will be reconstructed better than before. This is just a test. Testing our faith and patience.”
Additional reporting by Moulid Hujale in Nairobi, Kenya
"I have a debt that I will try to repay."