FEATURE In Darfur a helping hand for the most vulnerable victims of

18 August 2009One of the many frontlines of the efforts to obtain lasting peace in Darfur runs through a nondescript Government building in the sprawling Sudanese town of El Fasher. It’s an office in the Ministry of Social Affairs for North Darfur state and it’s where Rosal Fischer, a child protection officer for the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), plies her trade. Since May, Rosal has been training, mentoring and helping more than 40 social workers, as well as numerous Government officials, so they can better help local children rebuild lives misshapen by years of war and poverty. “It’s capacity-building,” explains Rosal, using humanitarian-speak for the assistance given by UN agencies, NGOs (non-governmental organizations) and other groups to local communities in poor countries so that they have the necessary skills and resources to carry out critical work ranging from installing basic infrastructure such as water wells to longer-term efforts such as improving the care and protection of children. Rosal is part of the UNICEF team across Darfur, where hundreds of thousands of people are estimated to have died in the past six years, either through direct combat or disease, malnutrition or reduced life expectancy. And UNICEF is just one of many UN agencies or NGOs operating across the region, and around the globe every day, to assist those in need. Their efforts are being recognized on 19 August, which will be observed annually starting this year as World Humanitarian Day. Violence levels have fallen since a joint African Union-United Nations peacekeeping force known as UNAMID began operations at the start of last year. But about 2.7 million people are still displaced from their homes, with the vast majority living in makeshift camps, and it is the children of the region who remain the most vulnerable. For Rosal, who has 11 years’ experience in the field, largely with NGOs in Viet Nam, London, Moscow and Tibet, the opportunity to work in Darfur and help people prepare for the longer-term – after the humanitarian workers have packed up and moved on to the next crisis – was too good to pass up. “I can see the opportunities out there for community development and sustainability,” she says. “There is a great need for this and I think it’s been responded to very well by the general community and by the Government. They realize we won’t be here forever.” There is no such thing as a ‘typical day’, according to Rosal, who spent two days last week visiting the small town of Kafod to oversee a trial project to disarm, demobilize and reintegrate child soldiers. Back in El Fasher, her work day usually starts about 8 a.m. in the offices of UNICEF, where she checks her emails and completes administrative tasks before setting out for the Ministry of Social Affairs, where she has been placed by UNICEF on agreement with the Government. There, with the help of a local language assistant, Rosal might talk with social workers about individual cases where they face particular trouble, train them on providing psycho-social care to children scarred by war, or discuss workshop ideas with Government officials for future projects. “My aim is to inject inspiration and motivation,” she says simply. It’s often incremental work where the gains are not always seen in a day but over weeks and months, such as the planned scheme to set up a vocational centre for street children in El Fasher. “Hopefully it will be a way to give children on the streets an alternative way of getting an education and having access to better livelihoods,” says Rosal. Much of her day is taken up with resolving bread-and-butter issues. “Maybe there’s not enough fuel for the vehicle that UNICEF has donated to them. That’s often a problem, or the fuel for the motorbikes that the social workers use for home visits. There are financial issues. We’re always looking at ways to procure funding.” A lack of resources is indeed a frequent frustration, but the daily rewards are also great, stresses Rosal, an Australian national who has been seconded to UNICEF by RedR, which provides personnel to humanitarian agencies worldwide. “I really enjoy working with the national staff. I’m not someone who likes to be tied down dealing with budgets… The Director of Social Work and Development [in the ministry] is a wonderful woman, for example, very down to earth… It’s a joy to work with everyone. If I’m not with them for a couple of days, I really miss them.”

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