An interview at the 61st UNESCO NGO Conference in Paris in September 2008 with Charles Taban, 32, a Salesian Brother of Don Bosco working with the Darfur Boys in Sudan by Valentin Jeutner (Germany, AC06-08)
United Words: Charles, how difficult was it for you to leave Sudan?
Charles Taban: I had to travel from the South to the North to Khartoum City and prior to come here we had to make several arrangements. We had to get an invitation from the Salesion Mission here in Paris. I was in fact the last person to get my visa, because I had to travel to Khartoum from the South and the only way to do that is by lorry. That takes you about three to four days. Eventually I arrived in Paris.
UW: How did you hear of the conference?
CT: Two month ago I received an email from the representative of the Salesians to UNESCO and he asked us to come.
UW: What was your mission here at the conference and what did you expect?
CT: First of all I thought it felt good to come, to get out of my context, the Sudanese context and to see what is going on outside in the world. To see what people are talking about and also I felt it was a good opportunity to come and to tell the international community about what is going on in Sudan, my country and to draw the attention of the world also to my country.
UW: What are you and the Salesian Brothers exactly doing in Sudan?
CT: I am a teacher by profession. Last year I moved from Tanzania to Sudan after I was in Nairobi working with street boys. There we have a reach out programme to empower young people. We also have groups of young people working for other young people. We have groups of youth trying to help groups of other youth, because in our present time young people seem to listen more to their peers rather than to elders or other people who come giving talks. We have this kind of group in Tanzania with which I worked for a period of two years. Coming to Sudan I was asked to work with the Darfur Boys. I was not mainly working as a teacher, but looking after the boys in their hostels. Seeing what they needed – food, maybe stationeries while also keeping an eye trying to educate them.
UW: What drives you while working with the boys, where does your passion to help other people come from?
CT: Being a victim of a forced migration, a victim of a violation of human rights, I thouht, when I received the obedience to go on work in that environment with the boys of Darfur, so these are people who have been victimised, who have been maybe displaced in their own places, who have been denied their basic needs. I felt I am the right person, being a victim of that kind of situation. I felt I could work with them, to help them to realise higher goals in live. Rather then just to be in the situation where they were. Especially the boys of Darfur who have been displaced and their rights have been violated. Not to forget all the other Southerners. They have all gone through the same, but Darfur seems to be the focus of the international community.
UW: When did the Salesian Brothers come into your live?
CT: I studied at a Salesian school in my hometown before I moved to Kenya and when I had to leave my country, the Salesian Brothers helped me. Seeing the good things the Salesians did to me, I felt, I could also do the same for other young people. And I can do it by joining maybe the same congregation that helped me. So that is also a driving motive.
UW: A few months before you moved, at that very moment, did you have the impression that you could do something, that you could change something?
CT: At the beginning when I left, I never thought of maybe changing the situation, because where I was; we were living at a place, whereby we had no information regarding what is going on outside. All we knew was only our locality, where we were. All I knew was only from the locality where I was brought up, that was all. And when I had to move to Kenya, before moving, I did not know where I was heading to, but I guess trust in God and my companions helped me find the right way.
UW: Is there anything you think, people who do not come from Sudan, people from outside could do, apart from financial help, to improve the situation in Sudan?
CT: What I would like people from outside to do is maybe to conscientise the people from the international community and especially the young people. Many people do not know of their legal rights. In fact Sudan has been at war for the past 50 years. 50 years we have been fighting. And throughout all those years our people did not know what their rights were. So how can I help them to know their rights? How can we do that, is the thing we have to find out. For me the first thing I would like to do is to start a movement with young people for human rights. Meaning organising young people who go out to conscientise their peers about their rights. That can be through seminars, you can do it through debates, through even games and sports, through organising conferences. So that is the kind of thing I will try to do as a line of action after having been empowered by this conference in Paris. And though I may not be able to reach out to so many people in Sudan, even if I am only able to educate a small group, it will be a break out – a point where the youth can learn about their rights.
UW: During your work with the Darfur Boys do you experience any other help, from the government for example, other than from the Salesians?
CT: There are some agencies that are funding that help, but most help we receive from individuals. Their number is huge. There are people who contribute three Euro, five Euro, ten Euro. That is okay, because with that little if three, four, five people put that together that is something that can help us around the programme. There are other agencies like “Manos Unidas” who help us with a project we are doing. Besides that there is our congregation, which has been very good to us. Our head from Rome quite often sends something to us and that helps.
UW: Do the Salesians as a catholic congregation also provide help to non-christians and victims of other faith?
CT: Some of our own teachers are Muslims and they are doing a great work. They are helping a lot. Our centre is open for everybody whether you are Christian or Muslim or even without faith.
UW: Do you have a vision, a perspective for Darfur for the next ten, fifteen years or do you have the impression you are working for the good in order to avoid that it is getting worse?
CT: Regarding the Darfur issue I have no idea. When we were starting the programme for the Boys of Darfur we were very few. I remember the first time we were 50 boys. Then we were 100, then 150, then 200 and last year 400. This year we are also expecting 400.
But regarding the “youth for youth”, this youth movement, I know it is something, which will work out. There are many young people in the Sudan who are willing. Only they need someone to tell them what to do. And in the two days I have spent here I think I received a lot. I received a lot of information and when I get back, though I will not be directly able to change everything, I will start this new programme, inspire many young people and try to educate them.
It will work out.
Let us hope we will be able to transform our societies.
– United World College –