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Featured Eyewitness: Zeinab Blandia

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To inform our community collaboration on the Atrocity Prevention Challenge, we're keen to share first-hand perspectives from those who have experience in contexts of mass violence. A Muslim peacemaker from Sudan, Zeinab Mohamed Blandia, has been described as a point person for creating community and maintaining peace in the Nuba Mountains, one of the most conflict-affected and neglected regions of the world. She was displaced from her home in the 80s as a result of Sundanese unrest.
Can you tell us how it felt to be powerless while you witnessed such mass atrocity?
The war broke out in Kadugli town between Sudan Government Military and the Sudanese Peoples Liberation Movement on June 6, 2011 at 6 pm. Shooting and bombing was everywhere in the town – people were rushing out from their homes in the dark night, children were crying and running without their mothers, women were carrying bags and puling small kids to flee the atrocity. Outside the situation was so dangerous. "Oh my God. How can I flee with my elderly aunt, 80 year old mom and four kids?" I asked myself. We hid under the beds until early morning, then we escaped, carrying the the elderly in wheelbarrows. I felt powerless while I witnessed the arresting, torture and killing of men, based on ethnic identification. Women were beaten and their personal belongings taken.
How was your communication with the outside world limited?
Communication with outside was so difficult and risky. After ten days I communicated with a human rights defender organisation through email to inform them about the situation and the risk we were facing.
How have these experiences inspired your current work?
The period I went through during this atrocity inspired me to worked hard to help others. I became active in the Nuba women's movement. I did not know exactly how I'd be able to participate in alleviating what was and continues to be overwhelming human suffering. I just knew I needed to act. One of the very first campaigns I helped create was to organise women to form solidarity groups using a unique approach which helped women to speak out about the atrocity. I thought advocacy would be a good way to connect people with the issue, while at the same time fundraising for direct assistance for survivors. I had no idea how deep of an experience it was going to be for me and for the many people that participated. I connected with many NGOs in the Sudanese daiospra which encouraged me to organise a week of advocacy work to stop atrocity in the Nuba Mountain region, held in Nairobi in March 2012. The activities included a photography exhibition, press conference, hunger strike and rally. I continue to work to support women's rights.
Do you have any words of encouragement for people joining our Atrocity Prevention Challenge?
Your efforts are important are vital. I hope the OpenIDEO community can collaborate to end atrocity in contexts such as the conflicted areas in Sudan and beyond. Please be especially mindful of the plight of women and children.
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Hi Zeinab, Thank you for sharing. There is nothing like a first person account to help visualize the problem. This challenge is actually very complicated. From a technology lens we need to be careful that the solution does not put the people on the ground in even more danger (i.e. Human RFID tags) due to ethnic friction (“the arresting, torture and killing of men, based on ethnic identification”) yet we want to reach out and provide a workable advanced warning solution to alert and save as many people as possible. From the human suffering lens we need to be careful of different cultural norms and come up with a solution that will be embraced by the majority of the areas affected by strife. Following an atrocity, relief work must begin immediately to alleviate the human suffering and get the word out about the atrocity.