Note:On March 6th 2009, the following was published by Save the Children USA regarding their, and twelve other NGO’s present in Sudan, expulsion from West Darfur.
As Save the Children was completing its fifth year in West Darfur, we received a letter from the Sudanese authorities asking us to suspend operations in northern Sudan. We were among 13 international aid organizations — including our sister agency, Save the Children UK — to have their registrations revoked. No reason was given for the action.
As a result, save the Children was forced to suspend operations and evacuate all expatriate staff from the country and to relinquish most all agency-owned materials. I left one month prior to the expulsion.
Water Vendor in El Geneina
As you may tell from my thumb-obstructed image of the water vendor, I had to be careful in taking pictures while in El Geneina. I admit, that I was aware that photographic/recording equipment was prohibited in Sudan without prior approval of the government. Therefore, I have very few images captured during my visit. this is not unusual for locations that I visit, where either culturally or officially picture taking is either forbidden or discouraged. Normally, I follow the Save the Children guidelines of not publishing any any image of staff or children with eight or less individuals without explicit written permission. Here, I received added caution from staff, and I certainly did not want to be the cause for putting the mission at risk. Even though I was able to visit a refugee camp and the activity at a food distribution point, I did not return with any pictures from either location.
Save the Children USA has been in Sudan for twenty-five years and for five years in West Darfur. My purpose in El Geneina was two fold. First of all, I was here to conduct an assessment of their programs to determine value for using mobile data collection systems. I would also evaluate their overall information management systems. Eventually, I would focus my assessment on the food security monitoring and evaluation data gathering activity. However, there were already sixteen Ipaq PDA’s here from a prior project for me to become involved with.
Save the Children USA Compound in El Geneina, West Darfur, Sudan
Late in 2008, just before leaving for the Save the Children offices in Bangladesh and Myanmar, a proposal for mobile data collection was accepted for the Darfur mission by the Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E) group at the Save the Children office in Washington DC. I had little time prior to my departure to order the hardware and software, in addition to provide the training – all over the phone and via email. The Washington DC based M&E specialist quickly became skilled in developing a series of forms using the Pendragon Forms Manager. The specialist then traveled to El Genina with the PDA’s and provided training to the staff and assisted in designing the mobile data collection forms.
Save the Children USA Washington DC offices (I love Malawi...)
Before my arrival in Sudan, I spent a week in the Save the Children sub-office in Aden, Yemen providing an assessment and training in mobile data collection. Prior to departing from the from my home base in Arlington, WA USA, I spent a few days with the M&E Specialist in Washington DC augmenting the training in the devices and forms software. I was also helped greatly by her to obtain my Sudan visa at the embassy located there.
Sudanese Embassy in Washington D.C.
The plan was to arrival in the capital of Khartoum, await approval of my travel permit to El Geneina. I would evaluate several programs, including food security, health and education, being deployed to assess if mobile data collection could be implemented. Then, I would provide followup training to thirty-five staff in use of the PDA’s, and also provide technical training in the use of the forms software.
As usual, plans change. Due to the deteriorating security situation in Sudan in general, and West Darfur in particular, the Wash D.C. M&E Specialist trip was cancelled. She was to arrive a a couple of days after my return to Khartoum form El Geneina so that we could compare activities and then she would continue on to El Geneina to provide support for a multiple sector survey. This was to be a huge survey across health, education, livelihood, etc. encompassing many hundreds in beneficiaries. It was to a be a considerable undertaking. So, just before I left Khartoum on my World Food Programme - leased flight to West Darfur, I found that I would be the only person present in El Geneina to provide the training for the multi-sector survey. I was glad that at least I would be on-the-ground, but I would have to quickly become informed about prior planning and form design activities.