Most of you probably have a general idea of Sudan, but have you heard of Darfur, “home of the Fur” in western Sudan? For those who the name is familiar, they must have listened to reports on the 10 year-old conflict between the threatening Sharia law-driven Sudanese government and Darfur. The gravity of the conflict has even led some people to talk about genocide in Darfur.
Recently I met Aisha, a young woman, activist and voice of Darfur. Now 21 years old and part of the Fur tribe, Aisha began to understand the meaning and importance of human rights 10 years ago when it all broke out in Darfur. Unlike the rest of Sudan, the Furs practise their own language (Fur), their ethnic dances and their land offers majestic mountains. Although the Furs are Muslims, ethnic traditions are paramount and must be transmitted to future generations. Aisha describes those Fur traditions of dancing with sword, men and women wearing their traditional clothes and colours. She affirms that “it has always been a proud people but only war has divided and destroyed them”. Darfur’s fertile soils used to supply food to the rest of Sudan. Today the central government has taken lands, farms, livestock away from Darfurians and the situation now affects the rest of the country.
Nevertheless I will never forget the beautiful smile and the eyes of Aisha speaking of the beauty of Darfur. She last visited Darfur in 2011 and she expresses a “genuine feeling of happiness that you get over there”. She also depicts her region as ” a natural place surrounded by mountains” and remembers her childhood being “awesome!” and “safe” as family, friends and neighbours happily lived and took care of each other. She adds “it has always been, and will always be a perfect place to me, but it has been affected and those who are surviving are suffering because they basically have no human rights”. Today she’s an active advocate for human rights in Darfur through the NGO Darfur Australia Network which raises awareness on the conflict of Darfur.
Unlike myself and most children from first world countries, at the age of 10 Aisha already understood the fundamental need to protect human rights for her community. She talks about the young generations of Darfur, “kids in Darfur have ambitions and great potential but no opportunities are given to them”. Aisha and other Melbourne-based young Darfurians all want to take part of the peace process for Darfur. I’m certain that just like her, they all remember the heaven-like land of the Furs and dream of returning to their peaceful homes. Their young and strong minds would never have believed that war could happen on their land or if “there were tribal tensions, it would only last a short period of time”. The Darfur community is very active in Melbourne and if we all had the curiosity to open our ears to listen to them maybe we would understand the circumstances in which Sudanese and Darfurians are fleeing their home country. It is as a brave young woman that she advises Darfurians arriving to Australia to not “be scared as you won’t be treated as outsiders but welcomed because the Darfur community is now present in Australia”.
Facing extreme violence in Darfur, she escaped Sudan 9 years ago through Egypt where she and her family reunited with her father at that time in political exile. Without any English, she made her way to Australia and has become a talented Africa-inspired student in Textile Design at RMIT. She will soon complete her Diploma to start a Degree with the dream to open a shop and follow her passion. She doesn’t put any limits on her work and from furniture, homeware to clothing, she’s very passionate about textile design and brings a Darfurian touch to her creations.
May the colours of Darfur be part of Melbourne’s creative life!