AN UNUSUAL REQUEST
Projects Abroad has been asked to show that Sudan is safe for volunteering – following the Gillian Gibbons teddy bear incident.
Projects Abroad has been approached by leading UK Moslems, businessman and TV star James Caan and senior politician Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, to explore the possibility of developing volunteering in Sudan.
Projects Abroad's Director, Dr Peter Slowe, was a key commentator on Sky and the BBC on the incident in Sudan where Liverpool schoolteacher, Gillian Gibbons, was locked up for allowing children in her school to call their teddy bear "Mohammed". Whilst in no way condoning such an extreme reaction, Dr Peter Slowe said:
"There are two big problems here, a lack of preparation and a complete absence of monitoring. If Gillian had just had the right guidance, or if she had volunteered with Projects Abroad, she could have continued teaching, and there would have been no trouble…."
There is a real need for volunteers in Sudan, but Projects Abroad will only proceed if safety can be guaranteed and volunteers can do work which really helps. With this in mind, Indian Director, Chinnasamy N Rajendran, is flying to Khartoum to have a close look and to give a report on what is feasible and when. He has already developed contacts with Kinnetti School, an important centre for the rehabilitation of young soldiers and a place where Christian and Moslem youths mix freely. He will also be going to the Boys Hope Centre and the Kharnheirn Orphans' Centre, both in Khartoum. These organisations look after children orphaned through poverty or war, and the Boys Hope Centre also takes in street-children every day.
Commenting on possible criticism for allowing volunteers to go to Sudan after the Gillian Gibbons incident – and in the light of the terrible events in Darfur, Chinnasamy Rajendran says:
"Sometimes, to do a worthwhile job, we have to accept that we can't change politics. It is occasionally necessary to work under regimes of which we don't approve. We believe firmly that the association of ordinary young people from Sudanese society with ordinary young people from various western societies will eventually lead to a lowering of the level of suspicion between people. They will come to see themselves as equals with similar aspirations in life.
"The results, short-term through direct help and long-term through friendship and experience, can only be good."