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Watching Sudan: A Personal Perspective

Fatma Eljack, Safer Edge’s Senior Programme Manager for Learning, reflects on the changes enveloping her country.

Fatma Eljack grew up in Khartoum, Sudan. In 2004, after attaining a degree in chemistry, she joined the International Committee for the Red Cross / Red Crescent (ICRC) and began her career in humanitarian aid. After a decade of work in Sudan, Iraq, Jordan, Libya and Liberia she joined Safer Edge as the Senior Programme Manager for Learning. Here, we talk to her about her fascinating career path and bringing her unique perspective to the field of risk management.

Describe to us your path from working with ICRC in Khartoum to working with us here in London.

I initially worked with the logistics department at ICRC in Khartoum before I applied for an international position as an interpreter. I’m fluent in Arabic and English with conversational French so being an interpreter helped me develop my career in Protection. Over a ten-year period with ICRC I worked across the Middle East and Africa, but it was after working in Libya during the civil war and Liberia during the Ebola outbreak in 2014 and 2015 that I decided I needed a break!

I took a sabbatical and came to London to complete a MSc in Conflict, Violence and Development at SOAS, University of London. While there, I met my husband and, after weddings in the UK and Sudan, we decided to settle in London. I wanted to work in the UK in a role that would allow me to contribute to humanitarian activity and allow others to benefit from my experiences and knowledge.

What did you learn working in Protection and with ICRC that you find useful in your work with Safer Edge?

Proactively managing security risks was a constant in my daily responsibilities as a team member, team leader, and Head of Department at ICRC. That could have been ensuring the safe travel of colleagues in the field, or the safe delivery of aid programmes or the safety and well-being of beneficiary communities. Civil unrest, civil war, epidemics – these were part of our daily work and because I worked in Protection my role would involve visiting prisons, detention facilities and migration centres so security was, again, an important consideration.

With ICRC I learned that all organisations encounter to security challenges in delivering their objectives and there’s a need to respond to those challenges differently. In my current role, I work with a broad range of organisations and I enjoy finding ways of tailoring our training and support to meet their specific needs

As we speak, Sudan is going through some monumental changes that has put it in the headlines. What perception do many people hold about Sudan that you would like to change?

The biggest misconception I hear about Sudan is that the country is unsafe. This is understandable given some of the challenges we have faced over the last couple of decades including the conflicts in Darfur, South Kordofan and Nuba Mountains. But they wrongly believe that it is generally dangerous to travel in Sudan rather than only in these regions. I hear about people travelling happily to Egypt where there is terrorist violence and conflict but, again, in certain areas. Working in risk management it’s important to challenge people’s assumptions which are usually based on superficial awareness drawn from the media about the security situation in an entire country.

Our perception of safety is relative not only to our geographical location but also to who we are - our experiences, background and a host of other factors. I’ve been safe living and working in war zones and my husband has had a gun pointed at him while walking along the River Thames in London. The ‘place’ doesn’t fully dictate the greatest risk, but this is what people often think of first.

What has it been like to watch ground-breaking changes taking place in Sudan while so far from home?

Honestly? I go back and forth. I follow the events daily through friends and family and it’s been difficult to not be able to participate in that change personally. It’s difficult to see those leading and participating in the demonstrations being targeted by the regime. But it’s also fantastic to see the changes that the people’s resolve is bringing. When you see pictures of over five million people on the streets of Khartoum calling for change it gives me great hope for the future of the country. Especially when you see the full range of society being represented – women, youth, different faith groups, ethnicities and political groups – they’ve all been prominent in voicing discontent with the status quo and calling for a society that so many people clearly want. And, the ways that they’re protesting are equally as inspiring, through concerts, poetry, dance, music and art. Again, it challenges this perception of Sudan as a conservative country.

I admire the role women have taken in leading protests even when met with violence and mass detention. This is remarkable and I think it challenges the assumptions that many people have in the West that Sudanese women, like me, don’t have a voice or role in our country. I hope these changes will provide a strong base from which women’s voices will be more clearly heard in future administrations.

Thank you for taking the time to share with us your thoughts. Do you have any parting thoughts?

Only that I would love to see more people visit my country – it’s an amazing part of the world. We have more and older pyramids than Egypt! This change will hopefully mean we’re building a better society where we can then begin to resolve the conflicts in all our regions and be a model to the world.

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