We wanted to save more boys but we couldn't. There were 4,000 of them [Darfur boys] waiting as we arrived but we could only take 180. Some tried to sneak on at night as we left Nyala but they were found at the checkpoint. Those that stay will become prisoners of hell; the starvation, famine is the cheapest way to kill and they will die.
- Fr. Vincent Donati, Society of Don Bosco Catholic priest on educating young men from internal displaced people (IDP) camps near Darfur.1
History is written every day. And, every day, wide-eyed scholars studying peace and conflict resolution convene in classrooms to postulate perfect solutions to the world's most disastrous conflicts, each hoping for the chance to create a page of history. In 2004, I was one of them - a young graduate student in Northern Ireland with big dreams of making the world a different place. I studied the errors and hardships of several conflicts, searching for what decades of diplomacy and warfare had failed to produce, and found myself particularly drawn to the crisis in Sudan. In 2005, the 22-year long second Sudanese civil war had finally and mercifully come to an end with the signing of a peace agreement between the Arab north and the Christian and animist south. But Sudan was not yet free from strife. Another crisis was looming: Darfur.
Labelled by the United States as 'genocide', Darfur began to up images of Rwanda in 1994. Upon completion of my Master's degree, I could no longer take anyone else's word for it. I had to see it for myself. I spent two years in development fieldwork in Sudan, searching for more answers to my questions. Why does the conflict continue? What is the reality on the ground, and what can be done to empower the civilian groups that are most affected?
What I found were several complexities of the political situation that permit continuation of the conflict in Sudan. I found a group of civilians, namely young men, who were simultaneously especially vulnerable to the effects of the conflict and especially pertinent to peaceful resolution and reconstruction. I also found a simple tool, vocational training, to be an effective method for engaging these young men, distracting them from participating in the violence and training them to become effective agents of change in the peacebuilding and reconstruction processes.
I. BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU WISH FOR
The facts on Darfur are clear, and the media remind us daily of the 215,000 refugees, the hundreds of villages burnt down, the 200,000 plus killed and the 2.5 million displaced.2 Many movements have labelled the conflict as 'genocide'. The Darfur Peace Agreement (DPA), signed in May 2006, provided a framework for cessation of armed conflict, though it suffered from lack of support from a number of rebel groups. However, despite the DPA, the conflict and suffering in Darfur continue. Blame has been placed largely on the Sudanese President, Omar al-Bashir. The governments of the United Kingdom and the United States have threatened to use their 'Plan B', a stringent list of sanctions or a no-fly zone, but no indications of this have materialized as yet.3 There is little doubt that the conflicts in Sudan, and not just in Darfur, have received media attention and been strongly condemned by the West. However, little effort has been made to publicly denounce Sudan's leadership as responsible for those conflicts. Some wonder why more has not been done to topple the government of the current dictatorial regime. Has progress with the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) and the south proven that the government can change? Is acceptance of the United Nations (UN), international observers and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) into the country a sign of progress towards peace? All these developments may have shown some degree of movement away from conflict, but violence remains a part of everyday life in Darfur. Popular organizations, such as the Save Darfur …