Dr. Wali joined Relief International in 2004 as a Health Coordinator at the height of the Darfur crisis. Over the past 15 years, he has served in progressively senior roles and now oversees the program as Sudan Country Director. He has a Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery degree from the University of Cairo, but his heart has always been in his native Sudan.
Below, Dr. Wali recounts memories of responding to the immediate and long-term needs of some of the two million people forced to flee their homes in North Darfur, many of whom have been displaced for more than a decade.
I rise before the sun. Without setting an alarm, I wake up between 2:30 and 3:00 a.m. every day. While my wife and three children are still asleep, I turn on a small lamp and read a few pages before walking through the narrow streets of my neighborhood to the mosque for morning prayers. On my way back, I’ll pick up some food for our two kittens that we rescued off the street.
By 6 a.m., my youngest son who is in high school wakes up and joins me for breakfast. Together, we’ll make a simple meal of bread, fruit and tea. I always take my tea with sugar and powdered milk. I’ve never had the taste for milk even though my parents owned a cow growing up.
A half-hour later, I’m on the road to Relief International’s office to avoid the congested morning traffic in Sudan’s capital city of Khartoum. When I arrive, the office is quiet. Most of the staff have not arrived yet. This is when I turn my attention to concentrate on the most urgent and pending projects. That way I can be fully present when the rest of the team gets into the office.
© RI/Elie Gardner
These days I mostly work from the Khartoum office on management priorities, but I’m no stranger to the field.
In the field you feel you are doing the real work, you can really see and touch the impact.
In 2003, when fighting broke out in the Darfur region of Sudan, displacing more than two million people, I was there to witness it.
I saw houses burning and vicious beatings. It was difficult and dangerous to gain access to areas of Darfur to provide relief to the people that needed it most, which is the core of our job as humanitarians.
The internally displaced lacked access to food, water, healthcare, and sanitation services. Since I joined Relief International, we have been working in the areas consumed by the conflict, providing life-saving care, nutrition, and water and sanitation programs to the internally displaced Sudanese in ZamZam camp as well as the host community in El Fasher.
In my office in Khartoum, I start to check in with the personnel leading various aspects of our programs.
First, I call our agricultural field monitor Esra Adam Eltyeb Abaker who runs training programs for displaced women on how to start sack gardens in their households. Using this technique, women in the camp can use the same amount of land to produce up to six times the amount of produce. The sack garden responds to the scarcity of two resources in ZamZam – water and space. Esra tells me about her plans to expand kitchen garden program to start a “training of trainers.” She explains how she wants to select the top graduates from her program, and train them how to teach their neighbors how to make sack gardens. By harnessing local volunteers in this way, we can greatly expand the reach of our programming at a low cost, and form deeper partnerships with the community we serve at the same time. I am supportive of her initiative and we discuss what kind of resources she will need to implement and monitor the next steps.
My favorite part of the job is when I am able to leave Khartoum and get to the field.
Next I meet with the head of our logistics, procurement, operations, Mohamed Turkawi. His team is in many ways at the heart of Relief International’s work in Sudan. Their job is to make sure our program staff have safe transportation to all areas of the camp we service, which can be a challenge over difficult terrain, and to oversee safe procurement and delivery for all the medicines and consumables we use in our healthcare clinics. Logistics may not be the most glamorous task, but its central to delivering services to those who need it most, so I spend at least part of each day with Mohamed making sure operations are going smoothly.
My favorite part of the job is when I am able to leave Khartoum and get to the field. I’m always overwhelmed and inspired by the kindness of the people that we serve in ZamZam. As Relief International’s Country Director, I meet all sorts of people. One visit to Al Malha, an impoverished and unserved area of North Darfur, has stuck with me over the years.
Members of the host community offered me a sheep as a gesture of gratitude for Relief International’s work in the area. On my most recent trip, ZamZam residents offered me gifts of okra, tomatoes, and potatoes they’ve harvested from the “kitchen gardens” Relief International taught them to grow to improve their household nutrition. Though I declined their kind offers, knowing they needed to keep the food for their own families, their generosity — giving me so much even when they have so little – motivates me to continue to my work back in Khartoum.
© RI/ Elie Gardner
While many organizations have pulled out of Darfur in recent years, Relief International remains committed to hundreds of thousands who continue to live in meager circumstances North Darfur. In 2017, we also started serving the people of East Darfur, including refugees from South Sudan who are fleeing conflict in their own country.
I have never lost hope that peace will come and our internally displaced will return home.
While many country directors for international organizations come from abroad, I am proud to be one of the few who serve the people of my home country.
Being Sudanese, I can go anywhere. I am quickly accepted by people. I speak the language and understand people as my neighbors.
I have never lost hope that peace will come and our internally displaced will return home."
Back in Khartoum, after a long day in the office like today, I usually arrive home late in the evening. My family is waiting for me so that we can eat dinner together, which is one of our most important daily rituals. Usually, my wife cooks while my kids and I do contribute by doing the cleanup. As a humanitarian, I want to serve my family, too.
After dinner, we’ll all sit together in the living room as my children complete their school work. My oldest daughter and son are both studying health professions at university, taking after their father. My youngest dreams of being a neurologist –though he needs to graduate from high school first. Usually, I’ll pick up a book and read a few pages, even if it’s just three or four a day, before going to bed by 9:30 p.m.
I try to apply this same patience for finishing novels to my work. Despite working in challenging and rapidly-changing environment like Sudan, each day we move a few pages forward in writing a better future for a better country.