Wise men, camels, a journey

November 5th, 2012

Wise Men, camels, a journey – remind you of anything?

It reminds me of Practical Action’s Posts for Peace work in Darfur, Sudan. Let me explain.

My all-time favourite poem is T.S. Eliot’s Journey of the Magi, which tells the story of the Wise Men making the long and arduous trek to visit the baby Jesus. Finding him, having left summer palaces and endured hardship, T S Eliot sums up the meeting with the phrase ‘It was (you may say) satisfactory’. I am moved by the understatement and simplicity.

I had the same sense of simplicity yet profound impact when I first heard of our Posts for Peace work.

North Darfur, in Sudan, has few roads, a lot of sand and an on-going history of violent conflict. When I visited, people talked of the impact of the conflict, of desperately trying to make a living, wanting to stay in their villages and maintain their communities. Not wanting to go to the refugee camps, where they’d receive dwindling aid handouts, trapping them into dependency. I met lots of people who had hugely positive stories of working with Practical Action, but I met one guy whose story was more mixed.

Hashim worked with Practical Action to irrigate his land enabling him to farm vegetables. Year 1 was brilliant – his crops flourished, he could feed his family, his wife and three sons and one daughter, and had some extra he could sell so as to buy vital necessities. Year 2 was much more difficult, as the rains were poor, but even so, using the water harvesting and irrigation techniques he’d learnt, his crops grew and were doing well. He knew that given the poor harvest everyone was experiencing he was likely to get a good price, and incredibly thankful. But food was hard for everyone and as his crop ripened nomadic pastoralists came in the night, their animals were hungry and they drove them onto his land. His crop was gone.

I asked what he was going to do? He spoke of replanting, of trusting God and waiting for the next harvest. He also spoke of he and his neighbours fighting off the pastoralists should they seek to take his crops again. This man who seemed so peaceful was spurred to what he saw as righteous anger in defence of his family.

Practical Action is a practical and pragmatic organisation. We use technology – often very simple – to help people improve their lives. In our Posts for Peace work the technology, concrete posts, couldn’t be more simple, but the process and ultimately impact is something different. The Posts for Peace can make life better for Hashim, for his neighbours and for pastoralist communities.

Wise Men – Mohammed Siddiq, our Lead in Darfur for over 20 years. Siddiq has dedicated his life to helping practically the people of Darfur. Mohammed Mazjoub, our Sudan Country Director who retired a few months ago, and who was instrumental in making the Posts for Peace work a success.

Camels – A hugely valuable animal to the pastoralists and amazingly adapted to desert life. Camels will be the most valuable asset poor pastoralist families own. Practical Action has worked with pastoralist communities for example establishing para-vets able to vaccinate and treat simple diseases in animals. This work means we are trusted not only by the settled farmers but by the pastoralists too.

The Journey – I wasn’t thinking of the journey made by the pastoralists. Rather the journey of the communities who, with the help of Practical Action, negotiated a way that could work for both settled farming and pastoralist families. This wasn’t easy especially in a community where war and day-to-day violence is the norm.

Let me and try to explain the problem – and solution

The first diagram shows settled farmland –as the pastoralists’ animals move across it they fan out, destroying crops as they go.

In the second diagram the settled farmland remains the same but as the pastoralists move through they follow a route agreed between them and the farmers.

Through our Posts for Peace the route is demarked and both communities have agreed to adhere to the route.

Farmers can farm, pastoralists continue to be nomadic. Both communities can flourish. A simple yet life changing solution.

One of my friends seeing the photos said ‘but there isn’t even a bit of wire between the posts’. When communities have guns, it’s agreement not wire that works.

Wise men, camels and a journey – Our Posts for Peace work offers a further glimmer of hope for Darfur this Christmas.

For Hashim and his family I hope the posts provide a gift of peace this Christmas.

In December 2012, Margaret spoke to Premier Radio about this project and the incredible impact it is having.

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