Darfur Crisis Hits Home in Indiana

Six months ago, Fatouma joined the burgeoning community of Darfurians in Fort Wayne. Fatouma, who gave birth to a baby boy two months ago, is in the last stages of receiving her asylum status and does not have a work permit.

She must rely on her new friends and neighbors to pay her phone bills, medical expenses and rent. To protect her identity, Fatouma asked not to use her real name.

"When I met [Fatouma] last fall, she was new in town with a baby on the way," said Karmon Young, a member of Fort Wayne's International Women's Club. "I took her to all of her prenatal visits and sometimes helped the doctor and [Fatouma] understand each other."

Although several people in the community help support her financially, Fatouma is still very much alone. Most of her family was slaughtered by the Janjaweed. She told her story while bouncing her baby, and barely flinched when she said that she had received "no anything from my husband," since her home was ransacked last May.

Fatouma has long been acquainted with violence and bloodshed. Her village was first attacked by Arabs seven years ago, when she was newly married.

"They attacked the village from all sides," she said in Arabic through Giddo, who translated. "Almost 50-plus people were killed."

Afterwards, she and her family fled to a new location within Darfur, where they thought they would be safe from attacks. However, when the tension and violence continued to escalate, Fatouma, 29, was victimized again.

Last year, she and four other women were taken by the Janjaweed and held hostage for two days.

"We are the masters, and you are just our slaves," Fatouma said they told her.

When they ordered her to gather firewood, she escaped and ran until she encountered an elderly man, who told her where some remaining members of her village were. She went there, but her family and husband had vanished.

Hungry and without shoes, she walked six days to Chad, then spent two more days in search of a doctor. She eventually made her way to the Chadian capital, N'Djamena, and went to the American embassy where she was able to arrange a flight to the United States.

She "is an easy person to love and admire," said Young who helps tutor immigrant women in English. "She has so much personal strength and courage. She has survived terrible personal tragedies, yet never complains about anything."

Young and Johns look at the tragedy of Darfur in the face every day and say they can't pretend the problem doesn't exist. Since they came to Fort Wayne, the Darfurians' problem has become the community's problem.

"It stems from being personal," Johns said. "I hate to say it, but if there wasn't Darfurians here, I don't know how active it [the Fort Wayne community] would be."

For more information on Darfur, or to learn what you can do to help Darfur, please visit SaveDarfur.org or Darfur Peace and Development.

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