In 2005, Mercy Corps board member Linda Mason took a journey to Sudan's troubled Darfur region. During her time there, she witnessed Mercy Corps staff in action and took time to sit down with women in makeshift camps and listen to their inspiring stories.
Shortly after her return, Mason took time out of her busy schedule to sit down for an interview.
Mercy Corps: Was there an event, story or conversation that was the genesis for the journey to Darfur?
Linda Mason: I lived in Sudan for two years in the mid-1980s as Co-Director of Save the Children's emergency programs there, so there was certainly some personal and professional history there.
What was your initial impression upon arriving in Darfur?
It's a land of contrast — when you meet the people of Darfur, they're gentle, courteous and respectful — incredibly lovely. As you make your way around, you're surrounded by human warmth. When you walk through the markets, all you see are smiles.
What struck you most about the people you met and talked to?
We met mainly with women, and had the good fortune to speak in depth with about 60 women. Over 40 percent of them had been raped and beaten within the past several months. They've been through absolute hell — but their gentleness and thoughtfulness impresses you. They were so welcome and warm — it's truly hard to believe they've endured what they have.
What impressed you about Mercy Corps' work (and staff) in Darfur?
The Mercy Corps staff in Darfur is phenomenal, so hard working and dedicated. They're quiet heroes, not trying to get attention. They're very low-key, but working very long hours each day and each week. The staff members are not only highly professional and very skilled, but also form an amazing multi-cultural, international team.
What do you think is working best (in terms of Mercy Corps' work)?
Mercy Corps did a major distribution of cooking implements and other critical supplies while we were there. We saw the detail of planning. Mercy Corps' basic work to meet families' needs is extremely impressive.
There are important plans underway for establishing women's centers, skill building and economic development. The organization always has an eye ahead for what's needed next.
I would like to see Mercy Corps move forward with even greater determination toward helping women claim their futures. Right now, women are sitting in the camps, but are very industrious and want to work and provide for their families. We need to train them and get them working as soon as possible.
What do you plan on doing to help the women of Darfur, now that you've returned?
Right now, we're concentrating on grassroots fundraising and awareness. We're also joining with other groups to raise awareness of issues in Darfur with legislators and other government officials. At the moment, we're working on setting up a meeting with (U.S. Secretary of State) Condoleeza Rice and the African Affairs Bureau of the State Department.
Also, Berklee College of Music is in the process of producing a commercial music CD that we hope will help raise money for women's programs in Darfur.
What are three words you'd use to encapsulate your journey?
Heart wrenching, mobilizing and inspiring.