Oxfam Youth Ambassador returns from Darfur with a call to action for young Americans

Published: 29 August 2007

Boston – Returning with first hand accounts on what it's like to live in Darfur, Nick Anderson, Oxfam Humanitarian Youth Ambassador, says more Americans – particularly young Americans – must learn about the ongoing violence and humanitarian crisis in Darfur and help support those who will be struggling to rebuild their lives and their homes.

"Wherever I went you could hear the sound of gun shots. There were armed men around every corner," said Anderson. "I couldn't understand how violence like that could be so routine." Commenting on conversations he had with a local he was traveling with, Anderson noted, "to me it's a disaster, to him, it's life."

In Kebkabiya, a small town that has seen its population swell to over 60,000 people after thousands settled there to escape attacks on their own villages, he spoke with young people, ranging in age from 14 to 20, who had been displaced from their homes and are living in temporary shelters. He asked them all the same question:

"If there was one thing you could ask Americans to help you with, what would it be?"

Anderson found that the responses varied little regardless of whom he asked. He heard two things consistently – the need for health care and technical training for jobs. The health care Anderson heard about is not what immediately comes to mind in the US.

"They need shovels to fill in holes and ditches in their schoolyards because during the rainy season, stagnant pools of water form and become breeding grounds for mosquitoes that carry infectious diseases like malaria. In addition, many of the young people in Darfur are looking for training in technical skills – things like carpentry and metalwork so they can get jobs and help to rebuild their communities," said Anderson.

Also, he observed that young people did not have any way to become active participants and leaders in their communities, to have a voice in what was happening around them.

"For teens in the US, there are so many ways to connect with each other and get involved in things that matter to us. In Darfur, so many of the young people I met would love to go to school, but don't because they can't afford it, or because the roads to the schools are unsafe and they worry about what might happen to them if they try to get to class," said Anderson. "For those who are able to go to school, that's all they can do in a day. Once they return from class, they have to stay at home since they are not allowed to leave their homes after dark because of security concerns."

Anderson approached Oxfam about going to Darfur after co-founding a successful national high school challenge to raise awareness and funds for Darfur by using the social networking site, Facebook. After helping to raise over $300,000, part of which helped to fund Oxfam's relief effort in Darfur, he felt the next logical step was to see the region for himself and bring his experiences back to share with other teens.

"I feel it is my moral obligation to be a representative of my generation, and to show that we have a strong voice and can take positions on important issues playing out here in the US and abroad," Anderson concluded.

Oxfam took Anderson on in this ambassador role as a reflection of his contribution to raising awareness on the crisis in Darfur and recognition of the opportunity to involve and educate the next generation of leaders.

Oxfam is providing vital assistance on the ground to about 500,000 people affected by the crisis, both in Darfur and eastern Chad. In addition, access to clean, safe water and sanitation as well as basic necessities such as blankets, soap, and jerry cans for carrying water are provided.

Oxfam also offers public health education programs to try and prevent the spread of disease; and, as the crisis continues, Oxfam is implementing projects to provide livelihood opportunities to help people find some alternative to the reliance on external aid.

In addition to its humanitarian relief efforts in Darfur, Oxfam is calling for a full and effective ceasefire by all the many parties of the conflict; better protection of civilians and aid workers, and improved humanitarian access so that aid agencies can reach those in need.

More from Oxfam America: Into Darfur, A Young American's Journey

Contact Information

To arrange an interview with Nick Anderson, please contact:
Helen DaSilva, in Boston, at +1 617-728-2409 (office), +1 617-331-2984 (cell) or hdasilva@oxfamamerica.org.