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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

My Sister’s Keeper continues humanitarian fight in Sudan

Published: March 7, 2013
Section: News

Co-Founder and Co-Pastor of Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Boston, a retired pediatrician and the Executive Director of My Sister’s Keeper, Reverend Gloria White-Hammond discussed the program’s fight for social justice in Sudan at the annual Ruth First memorial lecture on Thursday evening.

My Sister’s Keeper is a women-led humanitarian action program and human rights initiative that partners with diverse Sudanese women in their efforts toward reconciliation and reconstruction of their communities.

White-Hammond began discussing her role as a social activist by exposing the conflicts in Sudan.

“Sudan is a place where the government has been very much against its own people.” White-Hammond said that the government is comprised of people who represent about 5 percent of the population, leaving a vast majority of the population marginalized.

She mentioned the serial genocides around 1989, the Darfur conflict that erupted in 2003 and the North and South conflict in which “2 million people were killed, 4 million displaced and an untold number of people were enslaved.”

Slavery is still prevalent in Sudan today, White-Hammond said. Villages are raided and most men and boys immediately slaughtered, women typically raped and sometimes taken as slaves to do domestic work.

“One of the things that wasn’t apparent to me before I went over [to Sudan], is the extent to which these were primarily women and their children. It just hadn’t occurred to me, but again, typically the men would be killed so the ones that were mostly enslaved were women,” White-Hammond recalled. “The stories they told were unconscionable—the kind of abuse that people had experienced.” She exposed the cruelty of genocide in Sudan with a picture of a boy whose “master was so angry at him for losing a cow that [the master] picked up an axe and chopped off his nose.”

She noted, “This really is the face of genocide. And that’s why I got involved.”

“We started out with four, and now there’s 12 amazing women … discovering our voice and our sense of power to intervene and say no on behalf of other women. So we became My Sister’s Keeper,” White-Hammond said.

“[We] initially supported the women in the villages with some sort of income-generating project, but then a couple of women around the villages said, we want to start a school,” White-Hammond said, “This was in 2004.”

White-Hammond recalls, “When they first went around the village to tell people we’re going to start a school, they laughed … but we were able to mobilize a hundred girls. So, the school, it happened. And it thrived.”

The classes were initially held outdoors on a dirt floor under mud huts and trees and, “When it rained, there was no school,” White-Hammond said. “So we agreed to build a school that was 8-9,000 miles away, no running water, no electricity, no cell phones, but we were going to build a school because the women said they needed a school.”

In June 2009, My Sister’s Keeper dedicated a permanent campus with eight fully furnished classrooms, offices, dining facilities and latrines to support 525 primary students.

“It was the best decision because it meant that we have a lot of credibility, and what they understand is that we’re a group that’ll listen, and if we make a promise, we keep a promise,” White-Hammond said. “These women knew the wisdom and we followed it. Subsequently, we started the Women’s Peace School, which is an adult literacy project.”

“It’s still a kind of an uphill battle; the biggest issue still yet remains that out of a 100 girls who enrolled, only around 11 finish,” she continued. “An overwhelming number of girls get married—a 15-year-old is more likely to get married and die of childbirth than is to graduate school.”