5 days in the life of ... Caroline Cox
Sunday 31 May 1998
MONDAY: Having just returned from my 16th visit to Sudan, I spent all day writing a report; I also had an interview with the BBC World Service, as it's important to get the message back into Africa. They always say "We heard you, and we know we're not forgotten". Our small group of four flew out last week to a town called Wunrok: we have to go in and out like eels because the government told us they will shoot us out of the sky. I was disturbed on looking out of the plane window, because all you could see was devastation and burning. When we touched down, it was virtually deserted. Everyone was hiding in the swamps and the bush, because there had just been a raid, and there were bodies everywhere. It's normally a busy, thriving market town, but we were told that up to 2,000 government soldiers had galloped up with machine guns, and started to mow down civilians. The Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) came too late to stop it.
TUESDAY: Carried on with the report: it's important to get it on the record. That's when I broke - the detail and horror all become almost worse from a distance. We try to be a voice for those who have no voice, although it wasn't until we got there that we saw how great the need is, and it was a big shock. The government in Khartoum has just passed sentence on me: I think the formal charge is illegal entry, but my answer is that if they didn't have no-go areas, I wouldn't enter illegally. These people are desperate, and it was the worst I have ever seen. We were told by pilots they could fly for 60 miles and still find burnt lands and remains of normal life. The twist is that this was not one of the famine areas: there should be herds of healthy cattle, but it's just desolation. People who survived have fled to the swamps - between 30,000 and 40,000 - and we have tried to arrange for a 1,000 family-sized mosquito nets for them because it's high malaria country.
WEDNESDAY: Finished the report at 4am and was up for a press conference at 10am. I do feel a sense of intense urgency. There is a two-week window of time to try and get them some help before the rainy season starts. It's a relief when people pick up the story with interest. Because we work in no-go areas, we put ourselves out of eligibility for main donor boards, but we need at least pounds 20,000 to help these people. Had a meeting with the Department for International Development today, but I think we are too unorthodox: still, we can try. Had a game of squash - my first bit of relaxing.
THURSDAY: Went down to speak to a Christian fellowship in Aldershot to talk about NGOs in conflict zones. In the evening, I went bell-ringing at a church in Stanmore. It's completely absorbing and friendly, and very restorative. I've also been in touch with all my family - I have seven grandchildren, aged from 10 to about six months. My children say "We would like you to see your grandchildren grow up. Please take care", which of course I do.
FRIDAY: Someone told me about Clare Short's remark that people find endless humanitarian appeals "unbearable". At the time, I was opening an envelope with a very generous donation from someone who had just read about Sudan. A lot of British people care about what goes on there; I find no sign whatever of compassion fatigue if people know what is really happening and that their donation is taken directly to people in need. They know we always take it there in person. You have got to keep people alive, and it's important to stop the regime in Khartoum creating famine by burning land and livestock. Where people are in dire need for survival, it's no good just building infrastructure.
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