You Think You Have It Tough!!!

Graham Clifford, reporter and writer for The Irish Independent, just spent two weeks in a desert refugee camp in Algeria where the nomadic Sahrawi people have waited for 40 years to return to their little known country of Western Sahara. The Sahrawi women are strong, educated and skilled leaders in their community in the remote southwestern province of Tindoff, Algeria, just over the border from their homeland, the partially-recognized state of Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR). Clifford’s story made me realize that the women of the world, (and the men who encourage and support their goals and dreams), have SO MUCH more in common than they do in differences.

What the Sahrawi women have accomplished (while they “wait for their {desert} ship to come in) is nothing short of amazing and admirable on a huge level. How to accomplish life while not losing hope in the face of little or no support from the international communities of people, and women, is a veritable blueprint, a template, for people, individuals and groups, who are starting out, or re-starting out, at any age, in any country, of any gender, religion, etc. Clearly these women saw early on that Education was the absolute key to their survival. Those who left to go get their education have come back to educate. The elders of the village, as well as the women, are revered and considered heroic for having made the trek to freedom in the first place, 40 years ago. Most arrived with the clothes on their back and a couple suitcases.

Today, Sahrawi women continue to hold equal and strong voices in the community and government of the Sahrawi;  four women hold Ministerial positions within the government; Sahrawi women are doctors, nurses, teachers, technicians, security details and artists.  In this dusty, hot postage stamp of humanity, it was the women who began forming the basics of their community 40 years ago while their men were engaged in a freedom fight against the Moroccan government, which wanted to incorporate the Sahrawi and their land–while the Sahrawi wished to be, insisted on being, self-governing. 

Clifford2Women

Clifford-TV Reporter

(All Photos By Clare Keogh via The Irish Independent)

As if to show the Moroccan and worldly powers how well they could handle their own destiny, the Sahrawi people have carved the sculpture of a thriving village out of shifting sand. Still, they want the full international recognition of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic. No matter how well they have adjusted to making this tiny area of Algeria their own, it is not their own. They want to return to Western Sahara.

For now that is not practical or safely possible as the people who have stayed in Western Sahara, including women, are routinely imprisoned and accused of crimes when they dare to show their allegiance to SADR. Allegations that some Sahrawi women have been “disappeared” by Moroccan forces have been verified by various NGO groups. To this day, there are ongoing negotiations encouraging Mororrco to be transparent about the “disappearance” of hundreds of Sahrawi people, mainly independence fighters. Progress is slow.

The fighting with Morocco, which began in 1975 and finally ceased in 1991, caused a loss of many of the Sahrawi men. But when the fighting ended, the Sahrawi thought they would be allowed self-determination; instead, they say, they wait and wait. Additionally, the Western Sahara conflict left behind antipersonnel mines and explosive remnants of war. As part of its response to the humanitarian consequences, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) runs a physical rehabilitation centre for handicapped people living in the Sahrawi refugee camps in Tindouf.

As Clifford says in his comprehensive piece on the nomadic tribe:

“In 1991 when the guns fell silent the United Nations promised that, with co-operation from Morocco, a referendum on self-determination would be granted to the native people of Western Sahara – the Sahrawi people in the camps celebrated, they felt they had achieved their goal and prepared to return home.

But that referendum has never materialized – the Sahrawis say Morocco, supported in the UN Security Council by their former colonizer France, have stalled the process and fear they will never allow a referendum to take place.”

The powerful story, including videos and photos, Clifford collected for this story is a must read for women, especially, but for all those in every country feeling disenfranchised, abandoned and at the mercy of powerful political and military factions. Then try being all that in a hot, inhospitable and unprotected patch of searing desert sand! Kudos to Clifford and photographer Clare Keogh for this inspiring story, and to the Irish Independent and the Simon Cumbers Fund for making the coverage and distribution of this awe-inspiring story possible.

 

Screenshot 2015-03-17 22.06.22

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