Home | Comment & Analysis    Saturday 3 March 2018

Ken Isaacs, a hard working humanitarian serving in ruthless environments


By Mubarak Ardol

Every country on earth is affected by migration. Currently there are over sixty million individuals displaced by insecurity and conflict; over two hundred million people have moved in search of work or a better life. This is an enormous number. Aggregated together, the total number of migrants would represent the fifth largest country in the world, ahead of Brazil, Pakistan and Nigeria.

The International Organization for Migration is the United Nations’ agency for migration. It provides assistance in meeting the operational challenges of migration management, and is committed to upholding the dignity and well-being of migrants. This June there is an election to select a new Director General for the organization. I have known the US nominee for this position – Ken Isaacs – for many years, and I am convinced that he is the best qualified person to lead the IOM into the future.

In the 2002 Ken Isaacs opened a base for a Samaritan’s Purse humanitarian mission in a place called Hamesh Khoreib, located in the eastern part of Sudan. Hamesh Khoreib was founded by Al-Sheikh Ali Beitay, a Muslim leader from the Beja-Hadandawah peoples of Eastern Sudan, and is comprised of a smattering of villages throughout the desert. Life is difficult. Most people live under the poverty line, and very few people can read. The area only has one Quranic co-education school known as Khalwah, capable of teaching up to 500 students between the ages of 5-18 years of age the basics of education and traditional Islamic doctrine.

However, the presence of land-mines and the ongoing conflict between the Central Government in Khartoum and the Sudan People’s Liberation/Army made Hamesh Khoreib very dangerous. The area was deemed a “no-go zone” by the international aid community and very few organizations were willing to assist the affected communities on the ground. But Mr. Ken pioneered all the activities at that part of Sudan despite the war conditions, Samaritan Purse was dedicated to core humanitarian value of neutrality.

Additionally, the health facility in the area was very poor in its equipment’s, the construction and was not able to deliver proper health services to the beneficiaries in the area.

It was here, in the “no-go zone,” that Mr. Isaacs set up the Samaritan’s Purse outpost, providing food assistance, water and sanitation. The aid organization also provided a mobile health clinic, which actively toured the villages around Hamesh Khoreib, and provided critically-needed services to beneficiaries, especially women and children. Additionally, Mr. Isaac’s and his team equipped the hospital with modern equipment’s and refurbished the hospital building, making it possible to provide more stable health care to the community in the future. This is an example of Mr. Isaacs’s unique ability to recognize future challenges and invest in the long-term development of a community. His ingenuity and creative solutions make that possible. Samaritan’s Purse also drilled dozens of wells, which provided safe drinking water to the villagers and, through proper irrigation, thousands of metric tons of food. Many of the Muslims in the community found it interesting that Samaritan’s Purse, a Christian NGO, was willing to conduct humanitarian aid distributions inside the mosque of Hamesh Khoreib.

Moreover, in 2002, Samaritan’s Purse started a new mission in the Eastern and Western Nuba Mountains in Sudan. Interestingly, approximately 95% of the Western Jabales area is inhabited Muslims. The Samaritan’s Purse team, lead by Mr Isaacs, established and operated a teacher training institute, enrolling around three hundred teachers, which became the foundation of the English schools in the Western Jabales area of the Nuba Mountains, by now educating and serving thousands of pupils. They also provided agriculture and livelihood training to the people of Nuba.
It’s important to mention that Samaritan Purse led by Mr Ken also worked in helping Sudan before and after the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, beginning with Darfur region, Nuba Mountains and Eastern Sudan, Samaritan Purse was legally registered in Sudan.

As a migrant and a refugee myself, I have witnessed the services delivered by Mr Isaacs and his team. I have seen him overcome challenges and help needy people showing no discrimination or preference for one ethnicity or religion over another. In 2011 at Yida refugee camp in South Sudan, home to approximately 79,000 refugees (by then), the local administrator of Yida Refugee Camp asked me to go and welcome a guest at the camp airstrip. I and some residents, escorted by a traditional dancing team composed of women and men, went to greet our guest. It was Mr Isaacs and some of his Samaritan’s Purse colleagues. We met with him for an hour. At that time, UNHCR has not formally recognized the camp. Most of the refugees were worried they would face food shortages or cut-offs. Despite this, Mr Isaacs was committed to supporting the refugees in Yida until the issue with UNHCR was resolved. He also indicated that Samaritan’s Purse would continue providing services to the people, wherever they went, regardless of circumstances.

It’s very easy to judge someone by a few post or tweets. However, it much harder to understand, let alone carry out, the humanitarian efforts of Mr Isaacs in remote, dangerous, and austere environments, around the world. Given his record engaging with multi-ethnic, multi-cultural and multi-religious groups, I believe that Mr Isaacs will serve humanity well as the next Director General for IOM. No one is more eligible and qualified than Mr Isaacs, a fact I believe will be made abundantly clear once he is provided with this critical opportunity.

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