Going the Extra Mile in Sudan

People growing up in a remote town of Sudan, Kabkabiya, an active conflict zone, are not only fighting a political war but are also dealing with poor health conditions, broken infrastructure, lack of educational and medical resources, poverty and hunger. Against all odds, facing hardships and challenges every day, women belonging to this small town try to cling on to the smallest of opportunities and try to make the best of it. They have in them the strength, patience and passion to reach for the stars and to change the world. They have mastered the art of multitasking; along with being a caring mother, a responsible homemaker and above all a good human being, many are also successful career women; be it social workers, teachers or paramedics, they are working on the frontline to empower every girl and woman.
Little did we know about the strength of these Sudanese women until we were selected for the peacekeeping mission in the conflict zone of North Darfur by Pakistan Army. Continuing the decade-long tradition of Pakistan Army, the Pakistani contingent organizes various welfare projects, which has earned Pakistan Army a good reputation among the local populace. Our first project was a free medical camp, which was organized to commemorate UN Day. A spirited young student, Ibtihal Mohammed Suleman, in her mid-twenties, approached us during the free medical camp and volunteered as an interpreter. She lauded the efforts of Pakistani peacekeepers for arranging free medical camps and uplifting the local civil hospital. Later, she introduced us to Ms. Halima Al-Noor Musa, Training and Project Officer of Kabkabiya Women Association for Development and Ms. Muneera Abu Bakr Hamid, a teacher who has invested 35 years of her life promoting education. Ms. Halima and Muneera along with many others worked day and night rendering services for the underprivileged women of their community. Interaction with these women motivated us to arrange training cadres and lectures to upgrade and enhance their professional skills, an idea that was appreciated by Halima and other local women. 
After taking approval from the Contingent Commander, we chalked out a training program. Informative lectures and hands-on training cadres were arranged at the community centre twice a week and everyone was encouraged to take part in this activity. The lectures comprised of important aspects of maternal and child health, personal and dental hygiene, prevention of infectious diseases like malaria, enteric fever, cholera, hepatitis and COVID-19. The hands-on training was designed to provide women with the knowledge and skills necessary to respond to emergency situations like minor cuts and lacerations, choking, burns and cardiac arrest. In addition to this, awareness campaigns highlighting and drawing attention to breast cancer, its early detection, treatment and prevention of HIV/AIDS were also organized. We found that the women of Kabkabiya very keen on learning and acquiring new skills. Ms. Halima and Muneera helped us by spreading the word to the locals and ensured maximum attendance. At the end of the training program, medicines and care packages were distributed among the participants. Working hand in hand, we helped each other achieve our goal to empower Sudanese women so that they can take better care of their own health and that of their families.
Ibtihal, along with some teenage girls, also showed their interest in sports, especially volleyball. Seeing their passion for sports, a sports gala was organized at the camp, providing a conducive platform to these young girls to display their physical strength and capabilities. Volleyball matches were held and the players were awarded with sports equipment to boost their morale, which was followed by sumptuous refreshments. All these activities further strengthened the bond of friendship between local Sudanese women and Pakistani female peacekeepers. 
The women of Kabkabiya were all praise for Pakistani peacekeepers for going beyond the call of duty and taking an initiative of organizing training cadres, workshops and lectures focusing on uplifting and empowering all members of the community. Women are the backbone of a progressing nation and their capabilities should not be underestimated. If given equal opportunities and resources, they harness their skills and contribute to the stability, progress and long-term development of the community. That is the goal that the Pakistani Contingent has set for itself to help the Sudanese people in addition to the mandate, which it carries out being part of the UN peacekeeping mission. HH

The officer is serving in United Nations–African Union Mission in Darfur, Sudan

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