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Chad: refugee from Darfur shares her story

Hiba Abdallah Abou sitting in front of the JRS school in Goz Amir where she now teaches Arabic. (Jacquelyn Pavilon — Jesuit Refugee Service)
Thursday, May 26, 2016

(Goz Amir, Chad) May 27, 2016 — Garsila is a large town in Darfur, Sudan, where we used to live in a beautiful town house with many rooms. We were quite close with our next-door neighbors, our relationship very cordial. We'd invite them whenever we had get-togethers, and I was especially close with the wife. Then the war started, and I was hit with a terrifying surprise.

My name is Hiba Abdalllah Abou*, and I have been in Chad now for seven years. I am divorced, so I was living with my mom, my brothers and my two children.

As the war was going on in Sudan, we heard of the most horrible atrocities happening in the nearby villages. People were being killed, raped, beaten, robbed, their houses burned down. It seemed so close, but still pretty far away from my everyday life. I never thought anything would ever happen to me. Then one day, through word of mouth, I heard some terrifying news: this neighbor of mine, the man I thought was just any other normal citizen, was one of the main crime lords of this horrific violence. He would go out by night and rape, kill and pillage. "How could it be?" I thought. "He seemed so normal!"

We didn't know what to do, so we just started avoiding them — hiding in our house as much as possible, trying not to ever pass them in the hallway or on the street. We obviously didn't invite them to our house anymore, but in reality, we didn't know what to do. How could we live on normally? These crimes he was committing were crimes against our whole nation!

One day he came to my house and knocked on my door. He asked me if I'd come with him to his military compound to work as a cook. I obviously refused, but just as I did, he took me and my younger sister by force right out of our home. He brought us to the compound. He made me start working for them in the kitchen. My sister, however, was taken for another reason — a reason that is unbearable to think about. 

She was taken as their sex slave. My neighbor and all the other men in the compound brutally raped her continuously, for hours on end, all day every day, right in front of my eyes; I couldn't do anything about it. She was so destroyed, so weakened. I wanted to escape, but I had no idea where to go or how to get there safely. 

The atrocities just got more and more horrific. One day, my neighbor, the head warlord, was going to get married to a second child bride. For the ceremony, they brought a man from my community to the military base. Right in front of my sister and me, they decapitated him and presented the new young bride to the warlord by making her jump over the head. I felt sick. It was the most awful thing I could ever imagine.

In the next few days, the men took me just like my sister. It was my turn to be used. They took turns raping me for hours. I still remember the name of the first man to touch me. I could never forget it. 

One day, I pleaded with the men to let me go outside and make a phone call, and for some reason they let me. My older sister lives in Finland. I called her with my last remaining credit and told her what was going on and begged her to tell me what to do. She told me I had to get to Chad. There we would be safe, she said. I heard her, but needed to strategize how we would even do that though.

The next day I asked my sister if she was feeling well enough to try to escape, and she said she'd try. We stayed low and crept through the alleyways at night back to our home, picked up my two sons, my other sister and her baby, and my brother. My mother, not in the strongest condition, decided to stay behind for the time being. "I'll try to join you all a bit later, but if I don't make it, I'm old enough. If they want to kill me, let them kill me," she said. 

We were lucky enough to find a car which we took across the border into Chad, and from there we found another vehicle waiting to take us to Goz Amir camp. After a short while, my sister who was with me at the base discovered she was pregnant from the rape. She had the child, but to this day she is still very traumatized and mentally unstable from what we went through; she never recovered. 

I am not able to forget these things that happened to me, but more than that, I am not able to tell anyone. All the things that happened to me and to my sister, I keep it in a box. Sometimes I think about my past and fall into shock, having extreme anxiety attacks, but I try to avoid that as much as possible. I know my children need me more than I need myself, so I stay strong for them. 

I used to be an Arabic teacher back in Darfur, and now I work as a Arabic teacher at the Jesuit Refugee Service school in the Goz Amir refugee camp. Before all this happened, I had an operation, a female circumcision. Between that operation and all the rapes, I still have many physical problems. Sometimes when I'm teaching I have to sit down from the pain, but teaching is the only way I can earn money, so I work through it. It is only through receiving an education myself that I was able to become a teacher and provide for myself and my family. Without a husband, I am alone, but strong. As a single mother, 

I am my children's mother and their father. I give my children everything they need, and I am only able to do that because I'm educated.

Providing education for women is important because it is a basic human right. It doesn't matter what your gender is. If women are educated, they'll understand life, how to manage themselves, even through the most difficult situations, and how to accept one another. I am proud of my education, and I ask everyone to be educated for not only themselves, but for the betterment of their nation.

To say it simply: no education, no life.

by Hiba Abdallah Abou, JRS Arabic teacher in Goz Amir
Interview transcribed by Jacquelyn Pavilon, JRS International Communications Coordinator
*Name changed for reasons of security

Education for women:

Mercy in Motion is a JRS campaign with the goal of providing an additional 100,000 refugee children and youth with access to education by the year 2020. The campaign, launched on 8 December with the Holy Year of Mercy, will continue through the end of 2016. Education helps empower women to assert their rights and strengthen their protection. It promotes equality and full participation in all decisions regarding their lives, which can improve not only their lives but the lives of their children and communities.

Partnership for women:

Jesuit Refugee Service works in partnership with Voices of Faith. The Catholic Church is focused on social justice, and is specifically committed to alleviating the suffering of the poor. Voices of Faith aims to help the Catholic Church realize how expansive, but how vastly underutilized, the expertise of women working in the field and offices truly is.In the spirit of Pope Francis the focus is to accompany the poor, relieve human suffering, advance peace, and extend mercy.