Unsung Heroes in an Unknown War

Unsung Heroes in an Unknown World
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“Sudan’s Nuba Mountains – People Under Siege” edited by Sam Totten

McFarland & Co Publishers, Jefferson, North Carolina, USA, 2017

ISBN 978-1-4766-6722-5

Sam Totten is an academic with a difference: he has devoted his life to writing and teaching about human rights abuses, but he also risks his life to try to stop atrocities. This book is a collection of essays by Sam and his friends, all of whom regularly face death to deliver aid and medical help to civilians being ethnically cleansed by the government of Sudan. The stories of Totten’s “accidental activists” are not a matter of history: the murder, bombing and bloodshed in Sudan continues, unreported and unnoticed.

Mother of Mercy is a Catholic Church-supported hospital in a war zone on the south-east edge of Sudan. It is the only hospital, and its American doctor, Tom Catena, is the only doctor. What started as a humanitarian mission to help marginalized people in a remote corner of Africa has become a MASH, with as many as 400 severely wounded civilians a day arriving.

Since 2011 the Islamist Arabist government, based in Khartoum, has been bombing its own black African citizens in the Nuba Mountains. The regime deliberately excludes charities and journalists, so anyone venturing there risks life and liberty. The Sudanese air force systematically bombs fields daily to stop farmers tending their crops, thereby using food as a weapon of war. Why? The Nuba refuse to give up their faiths (Christian, animist and moderate Islam) in favor of the joyless and extreme Islam the regime insists they adopt. The deeply corrupt Khartoum officials also want to clear the land of black African farmers so they can have the oil beneath it.

The UN and the international community’s diplomats know all about this, but avert their eyes because Khartoum occasionally hands over intelligence of dubious quality to the US, saying it is on our side in the war on terror. Consequently, in an area the size of Iowa, more than a million people are being bombed and starved to death. Their mistake is being so resilient, as is clear from the stories in Totten’s book. Perhaps if they were more obviously starving, rather than coping by eating grass and leaves, the world might care more.

Surrounding the Mother of Mercy hospital are dozens of fox holes where patients, volunteers and medics throw themselves when the Sudanese drop their bombs - a regular occurrence. Catena works unbelievable hours, seven days a week, amputating children’s limbs, treating burns from incendiary bombs, and repairing flesh that has been devastated by shrapnel. The Sudanese regime deliberately tries to hit the hospital, just as it targets schools and markets, aiming to kill as many Nuba as it can.

The essays in this collection tell of hair-raising journeys through South Sudan, a country now gripped by a vicious civil war, then across the border (illegally) into Sudan, and along appalling roads, avoiding land mines, driving without lights at night, and constantly watching the skies for Sudanese air force bombers. Once at the hospital, the daily discomfort of working in stultifying heat with few resources would be enough of a challenge. Add to that the scorpions in your shoes, the limited diet, the isolation, and, of course, the bombs.

The chapters by doctors are a hyper version of ER or Grey’s Anatomy, but without sufficient resources or staff, and with shrapnel flying around. In an extraordinarily honest chapter, Dr Corry Chapman admits she wants to leave as soon as she begins her one-month-at-a-time visits. She’s terrified, but she keeps going back because the need is so enormous, and the world ignores the ethnic cleansing of the unarmed black African civilians in the Nuba Mountains. The heroism of everyone in the book will likely never be recognized because the Nuba is not a cause celebre. For that reason alone, Totten’s book is important.

For more information about the Mother of Mercy hospital, and to support their work, please click here: http://theheartofnuba.com/

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