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Eyewitness Testimony: Jennifer Leaning


Suddenly, as we rounded a corner on this desert path, we saw twenty thousand people huddled with no cover. The wind howling and shrieking in the sandstorms, everybody bowled over trying to keep the wind from them with their head scarves and gowns. A little tiny thatch mats held up to shield the children. And we realized that these were the people, the twenty thousand that we were supposed to see. And I felt at that point how ghastly this situation was, and that we found from having asked people that they were—they’d been there for four days without any assistance in terms of food or water or shelter. And my sense is that these people are really near the end of their rope. This is a terrible situation.

If you take people, even people much tougher than I, born or brought up to these conditions, inured to heat and desert and small amounts of water, if you expel them from their sources of shelter and life and livelihood, you are annihilating a people. You're making it impossible for Darfur to ever be the same again.

Jennifer Leaning, Human Rights Activist, Sudan

Jennifer Leaning, an expert on disaster response, documented the plight of Darfurian refugees along the Chad-Sudan border in 2004.

Leaning and her colleagues from the non-governmental organization Physicians for Human Rights visited camps throughout the region, some of which were already well-established.

But when they visited a group of new arrivals near Bahai, Chad, Leaning witnessed the suffering of people living in horrible conditions without any international aid.

While documenting the stories of these refugees, she became deathly ill herself and was evacuated. Back in the United States, she and her team helped publicize the genocide. Leaning continues to work on human rights, humanitarian aid, and public health at Harvard University.