On the Ground in Darfur
I first learned of the Darfur crisis in the fall of 2004, a year after the atrocities began to unfold. I was working for Brigham Young University's newspaper at the time and the managing director, Jim Kelly, suggested that he and I go photograph the situation. We needed money, however, and we began looking for grants to help fund our trip. I wrote a proposal to the Office of Research and Creative Activities at BYU in October and after months of waiting for a reply we finally received word in April that our project was awarded the money.
BYU was funding this trip and they would not allow us to travel into Sudan because of the conflict. Instead, we would travel into neighboring Chad to where over 200,000 Sudanese refugees had fled from Darfur in the last year. Now that funding was secure, my goal was to make a contact for help with travel and lodging on the ground. I spent over a month e-mailing countless organizations and NGOs, telling people of my interest in covering the situation. I did not hear back from anyone.
Jim Kelly dropped out months before I left because of other obligations and I was left on my own. I made my way overseas in August and planned for a three-week trip -- total. It took a day and a half to get to the capital, N'Djamena, alone and four more days to finally get to Iridimi, the most accessible of the Chad camps. It was the rainy season, so land travel was severely limited and risky. We could only travel to certain camps and only if the oadis, temporary rivers caused by rains, were crossable. Eventually, Iridimi would be the only camp we would be able to access during my stay.
My first visit to the camp was Monday afternoon and I only spent an hour or so shooting. I photographed men playing volleyball in Iridimi's center. I was surprised to see people in good spirits and playing games. I had no idea what to expect. I knew that since I was on the Chad side of the conflict things would be more tame, but I still was not sure what condition the camps and refugees would be in. People were alive and healthy. They had survived and that was my story.
That week with survivors of the Darfur genocide was an experience that has strengthened my passion for journalism and my compassion for human life. I would return in an instant if more funding were available. But for now I want to tell the stories of other people surviving other atrocities.
© Mario E. Ruiz
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View Mario E. Ruiz's story The Forgotten Ones at zReportage: http://www.zreportage.com/refugees/
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