Literary Activism

Harriet Levin Millan

Wednesday, April 30, 2008


An interview with Darfur refugee Fatima Haroun
By Sarah Mason, Drexel University Student

Fatima Haroun’s delicate handshake reveals nothing of her tormented life back in Darfur. Today she is a social worker for the City of Philadelphia, a mother, and the vice president of the Darfur Alert Coalition, a nonprofit based in Philadelphia.

Darfur is under the rule of “dictators who discriminate,” she says.

“Those who are not favored are marginalized,” says Haroun. “People like me don’t find many chances in our country for work and education.”

Survival, however, was the primary reason for Haroun and her family to come to the United States.

“The government [of Darfur] is racist,” she says, “killing the darker-skinned people first because there is hate and jealousy. Darfur is the second darkest region. They see the natural resources in these areas and want them, and use the Christian religion as a cover, saying they are killing them in a ‘holy war.’”

The villages surrounding Nirtity, her birth village, were systematically destroyed.

“The people came and attacked the village and set fire to everything,” she says. “Because of the noise, people came running, and they shot right at them. The elderly were burned, just like that,” she says, flicking her hand.

“They wanted to kill boys because they wanted to make the tribes weaker. They would take valuables before burning the villages, and they took my father’s mill and some corrugated metal and destroyed and hid them, because they wanted to destroy people economically.”

Haroun does not see the situation in her homeland changing anytime soon, pointing out that the president of Sudan recently appointed a suspected Janjaweed leader as his new adviser. “Janjaweed” translates to “devils on horseback.”

Haroun plans to get her master’s degree in the U.S., most likely in social work, and then return to Sudan to pursue her dream of running for parliament.

“I will work for stability,” she says, “and return when there is finally a peace that I agree with.”

Haroun believes that the international community has not done enough to stop the atrocities in Darfur.

“They announce this is genocide, but still didn’t take the right action,” she says. Haroun believes that the U.S. government has proven reluctant to help because of a past relationship with Sudan involving Osama bin Laden. As a result, she says, only non-governmental organizations are sending relief.

She urges all Americans to contact their congressional representatives and to spread the word.

“People need to put more pressure on the government to help, because political help is a necessity,” she says.

Much of Haroun’s family is still in Africa, including her brother, whose dream, she says, is to come to the U.S. and marry a woman here. Haroun also desperately wants to bring her father here, but cannot because she needs documented proof he held a presence in her childhood.

“I don’t know how to prove it,” she says with frustration. “It hurt me when they told me that.” She pauses. “I will bring him.”

She says the Sudanese community throughout the U.S. is committed and conflicted.

“We are trying to place ourselves and participate and contribute, and at the same time, trying to keep our culture to have our children learn,” she says. “We want to establish a community and build and organization to benefit and enable us to teach our children our language and culture.”

Haroun hopes that the City of Philadelphia can help the Sudanese community here “to build and fulfill our dreams in the new land.”

More information on the Darfur Alert Coalition: Sarah Mason is a senior at Drexel University.

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