The Last Survivor: ‘Home to Darfur’
On March 4th, 2009, when the International Criminal Court issued the arrest warrant for Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, over 400 local Darfuri refugees living in Israel rallied in support of this decision.
When we met Adam Bashar, we were running a few minutes late and were out of breath. The bus that was supposed to take us to the Yemine Orde Youth Village outside of Haifa – where Adam was on pace to finish Israeli high school in just two years – dropped us at an unmarked stop at the base of Mount Carmel. We hiked up the first half of the hill before being offered a ride to the top.
Adam greeted us with a welcoming smile and slowed the rush of the morning to a snail’s pace as he lead us, one step at a time, around the beautiful campus of the Yemine Orde Youth Village and school. The village, which was founded in the 1950s as a home for Jewish children orphaned by the Holocaust, has since become home to orphaned youth from over 20 countries around the world. Most recently, the case of a group of young refugees fleeing genocide in Darfur caught the attention of the director of the village, Dr. Chaim Peri. Dr. Peri was especially moved by the group’s eldest member – a 16-year old named Adam who, having had his first taste of democracy, petitioned the United Nations and the Israeli government to allow him to attend school like any other child his age. Dr. Peri was appalled by his own government’s refusal. United with his students, Dr. Peri fought – successfully – to have Adam and the others released to the school’s custody.
As we walked along the path that ran the perimeter of Yemine Orde, Adam told us about the last time he saw his home in Darfur. He was just 14 and was playing outside with friends when the village was bombed. He told us how he and the others started to run; how they went from village to village in search of food and shelter; how although there were many boys at the outset of the journey, only Adam and one other were able to escape into Egypt; that once there he joined other refugees in sleeping outside the United Nations headquarters – the comfort of the organization’s promise the only shelter afforded to them in an unknown land. And as we continued walking, Adam told us about the massacres carried out against Darfuris in Egypt, that he fled to Sinai where he found work but was never paid, and that, seeing few options before them, he and two others decided to cross the depths of the Sinai Desert during the night and cross the border into Israel.
Through Adam, we were introduced to an entire community of Darfuris who had made the journey from Sudan, through Egypt, and across the border into Israel. And when we walked into the homeless shelter in which many of them lived, we were overwhelmed. We have both spent the better part of the last two years speaking with genocide Survivors, listening to stories of horror and loss. But when we met the refugees who had fled Darfur where genocide continues, the past tense was suddenly replaced by the present. Experiences of loss had not yet settled as treasured memories that linger in the heart, but remained raw panic that screamed from the eyes.
But these refugees did not fit into our clichéd assumptions of what a refugee was supposed to be. They did not sit around, helplessly waiting for their plight to improve. Instead, under the inspired leadership of people like Adam, they strove to improve themselves – to rebuild their lives so they might one day return home and rebuild their country. They organized themselves into a nationally recognized non-profit, B’nai Darfur (Sons of Darfur). Touting the motto, “God helps those who help themselves,” the organization assists newly arrived refugees in finding shelter, work and schooling for their children. Adam himself, works in elementary schools around Tel-Aviv, helping Darfuri children continue their education in a foreign land. He preaches the importance of education as a means of not only improving oneself, but as a weapon by which we can combat the very forces of intolerance and hatred that drove him and his people from their land.
Yet despite all of this it is the first image that remains with us – that of a fourteen year old boy, scattering into an unknown wilderness, equally unsure of the whereabouts and well-being of his family as he is of his own destination. Before meeting Adam, like many others, we quantified the horror of mass atrocity solely by the number of dead – in the case of Darfur the death toll is staggering: over 400,000 and rising. What we often overlooked, were the millions, like Adam, who have been displaced by the genocide.
Meeting Adam has taught us what it means to lose one’s home – to be forced from the land of your ancestors, driven from your history, your family and all that distinguishes you in this world. And so what inspires us most about Adam is that, despite all he has endured, the unexpected turns of life that have forced him to age far beyond his 19 years, he clings to the same inclination he once held as a young boy playing outside with friends in Darfur: that when this is all over he will return home.
There is a compelling moment that we captured during a radio interview with Adam on the day that the International Criminal Court issued a warrant for the arrest of Sudanese President, Omar al-Bashir. After listening to Adam’s story, the Israeli radio host questioned how Adam was able to cross into Israel. As an illegal immigrant, she wondered, how is it that he was allowed to stay? “I am not staying,” Adam insisted. “I am waiting until there is peace in Sudan.
“And then I will go home.”
Much more of Adam’s story and the stories of the refugees whom he leads will be featured in the 20-minute version of our film, The Last Survivor, that will be featured via live webcast as part of the Genocide Prevention Month kick-off event. To learn more about the premier and other events you can participate in as part of Genocide Prevention Month, please visit the Month’s official website, www.genocidepreventionmonth.org and sign the pledge to honor the six genocides commemorated in April by working to prevent future atrocities. This blog is part two of a multi-part series on survivors of genocides. Cross-posted at change.org