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Our Visit to the Sahrawi

Added by Holger Bergner on November 27, 2012. · No Comments · Share this Post

Filed under Africa, Missions, True Stories

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Photo by EU Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection via photopin cc

By Den Edwards:

I recently spent two weeks in Sahrawi refugee camps near the oasis city of Tindouf, in southwest Algeria. Ten of us volunteers, from teenagers to fifty-somethings, had made the trip from our base in Granada, Spain, to speak and perform in the camps’ schools and community centers.

The Sahrawi people are the remnant of the nomadic Arab tribes that roamed the deserts and coasts of the former Western Sahara. During the 100 years that they lived under Spanish rule, they became accustomed to living in more stationary situations and built large communities like Smara.

When Spanish colonial rule suddenly collapsed in 1975, Morocco and Mauritania rushed to fill the vacuum. The indigenous Sahrawis fought a losing battle. Some members of the international community yelled foul play, but most looked the other way. Recent international pressure on Morocco to return the seized territory has been futile. So for over 30 years, nearly 200,000 Sahrawis have lived in squalid conditions in the hamada–a type of desert landscape consisting of largely barren, rocky plateaus. Summer temperatures there reach 55ºC (130ºF).

We were impressed by the humility of the Sahrawi. They are neither politically or religiously fanatical. Their plight has been largely ignored for three decades, but they are not bitter. They refuse to give up hope and cling to their faith in God that justice will be served. He looks down upon them, they say, and will one day save them.

We lived with three families during our stay, and each treated us royally. The living conditions were basic–there was no running water, electricity was only from solar panels and 12-volt batteries, and the heat was almost unbearable–but the hospitality and camaraderie more than compensated. Family and greater family units were strong. No violence, crime, or drugs were evident. We had stepped back in time, where globalization and modern conveniences were nearly nonexistent, yet we were renewed and invigorated spiritually.

We played simple games with the housewives and teenagers with whom we stayed. We laughed and danced and sang. We talked and listened. Even the days were tranquil–no noisy city traffic or construction work. We took in the night sky with its blanket of stars, undiminished by the glare of streetlights and unobscured by high-rises. We had a barbeque by moonlight on the sand dunes, and sang songs together about love and peace and faith in God. We felt like we were in paradise.

We ended our program at each school with the song “Tomorrow, When the World Is Free,” which is about the thousand-year period of peace on earth, known as the Millennium, that will follow Jesus’ return. Invariably, the teachers thanked us, saying, “You are foreigners, yet you came to bring us hope and sing of our aspirations,” or something similar.

When we returned to Spain and Portugal, our friends applauded us. “What a great sacrifice you made to go to those refugee camps and minister under such difficult conditions!” But we answered, “What sacrifice? We never made a sacrifice–we were the blessed ones.” We thought of our dear Sahrawi friends, dispossessed and neglected, and added, “Here are a people near to the heart of God. May He bless and keep them in His care.”

The meek shall inherit the earth, and shall delight themselves in the abundance of peace.–Psalm 37:11

Photo credit: EU Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection via photopin cc

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