Volunteering Wrapped in Humanity and Care
I am the AWB volunteer for a project in Sudan at the Centre for Peace and Development Studies (CPDS) at Bahri University. The project’s purpose is to build capacity in community-based conflict resolution and political settlements.
This brief article is meant to highlight my unique experience with AWB and the exemplary way the staff (Corrie Young and Catherine Cripps) care for their volunteers when all the barriers are knocked down and the safety of the volunteer becomes the primary and only concern.
It all started in October 2019 when I met the AWB team at Carleton University. A week later, CPDS Sudan and I tendered our application for an AWB project. We worked through the details to finalize the project over the next 2 months.
With no indication that the COVID-19 situation would escalate so quickly, on March 1, 2020, I boarded a plane for Sudan in a 12,000 km trip to spend 29 days on the ground for the first visit of a 2-legged program. The checks, double checks and comprehensive insurance policies put in place before I left were a safety umbrella for me when in transit and in Sudan. AWB had worked hard to make sure I would be comfortable despite the dire conditions in Sudan.
Under these challenging conditions, I started working and Corrie and Catherine were in daily contact checking on me and my well-being. Then, real trouble started. On March 9, there was an attack on the Sudanese prime minister’s motorcade. Corrie kept on top of the news and was in contact to make sure I was safe. On March 10, COVID-19 became a threat in Sudan and around the world. On March 15, things started to look unsafe. I was in daily contact with AWB’s travel agent, Grace Fowler (House of Travel – Maison de Voyages).
Late on March 16, the Khartoum airport was abruptly closed. I was locked in.
Catherine wrote on March 17, “…I would just like to add that I am thinking about you. Your positive approach is reassuring.” We had never met face to face. What a morale booster! Then on March 18, while I was still working and trying to find flights, and with messages flying back and forth, Corrie wrote, “If a quick decision is necessary, I am putting the decision into your hands. AWB will cover the cost.” Carte blanche for me to go ahead and get myself out at any cost. I was touched.
On March 19, things started to look more hopeful as the Khartoum airport opened for just 48 hours to allow 4 flights to take foreigners out of Sudan. Grace was working frantically with the station manager of Ethiopian Airlines in Toronto. In reply to Grace who was looking for consent on options, Corrie wrote, “please do what is necessary.”
I finally got out of Sudan in the afternoon of March 20 and arrived safe and well in Ottawa 24 hours later.
I will volunteer again with AWB anytime I can, knowing that the organization cares!
Dr. Tag Elkhazin is Adjunct Professor at Carleton University, Ottawa, assigned to the Institute of African Studies. He is a Senior Fellow with the Norman Pearson School of International Affairs, a member of the African Study Group of Ottawa, and member of the Board of Directors of the Archaeological Institute of America – Ottawa.
Tag trained and worked in Sudan, Sweden, Germany, Saudi Arabia, Ethiopia, Kenya, Eritrea, Nigeria, Chad, Canada and the United Kingdom. He is a member of the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), London, UK.
Dr. Elkhazin has been a regular coach training and teaching Interest-Based Conflict Resolution with the ADR Chambers and Stitt Feld Handy Group of Toronto. He is the author of several articles and assessments on conflicts in Sudan, South Sudan, IGAD/CPA, water/Nile waters, civil society, peace and conflict resolution. Tag developed his own hands-on module of “political settlement” between rebel groups and incumbent governments.