Andrew Berends is a filmmaker who lives in Brooklyn. He is now in production on “Madina’s Dream,” from which this Op-Doc is adapted. His previous documentaries include “Delta Boys,” “When Adnan Comes Home,” “The Blood of My Brother” and “Urk.”
“In 2011, after decades of civil war, South Sudan became independent from the Republic of Sudan. However, north of the border, the conflict continues with ground-fighting, aerial bombardment and starvation warfare.
Last year, I traveled to Sudan to document how this war still grips the Nuba Mountains – a ruggedly beautiful region where the Nuban people eke out an agrarian and pastoral subsistence.
To reach Nuba, I passed through Yida Refugee Camp across the border in South Sudan. In the camp, I met the three girls featured in this Op-Doc video: the 11-year-olds Madina, Howa and Aziza. The girls had fled the war with their families, winding up with 70,000 other Sudanese refugees in the sprawling camp. Days in Yida are long and offer limited opportunities for schooling, so the children have found creative ways to entertain themselves. When I met them, they were making open-air dollhouses filled with intricate figures they had sculpted from clay. They filled the houses with beds, pots and stoves, all remnants of their former lives.
I told the girls I would return the next day, and asked them to make some more clay figures to show me what they had experienced in their village in the Nuba Mountains. When I visited again, they had created over a hundred new figures including tanks, helicopters, rebels, machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades. The girls told me stories of witnessing family members killed by soldiers and how they hid in caves while airplanes bombed their village. They told me about walking for days to escape the war, and how they dream of one day returning home.
So, I traveled across the border deep into the Nuba Mountains to try to document the world these girls had left behind. During four months, I saw hunger and fighting, airplanes dropping bombs and children hiding in caves. I saw two children starve to death.
For now, Madina and her friends will most likely remain in the relative safety of the camp, among the 250,000 refugees who are currently in South Sudan. I am still disturbed by the images I observed in these children’s play and the reality they represent: a war that continues to devastate life and rob children of their childhood. I hope that for them, someday going home will be more than just a dream.”