Amel Marhoum works for UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency. Before the war transformed Sudan’s capital, Khartoum, into a battlefield she lived there with her family. Starting on April 15, 2023, during the last days of Ramadan, heavy gunfire and shelling trapped countless families, including her own, in their homes with dwindling supplies of food and water. A year later, every segment of Sudan’s population, from pastoralists in rural areas to the country’s once thriving urban middle-class have been impacted. This is Amel’s reflection on how the war has changed her, her country, and her work.

Before the fighting truly began, there were indications in Sudan that a minor conflict was brewing, but not a full-fledged war. She still feels like it is a dream—or more-so a nightmare. She keeps thinking tomorrow she’ll wake up and things will be fine. But things are not fine.

April 14, 2023 felt like a normal Ramadan night. They had their suhoor (early morning meal before sunrise) and hours later the war erupted. That Saturday morning, April 15, she was sleeping, which tells you just how peaceful and calm the day started out.

She was not prepared for what happened next. The sudden sounds of heavy artillery, airstrikes, and shelling were unimaginable. She had never heard sounds like this in her life.

As a Liaison Officer at UNHCR, she’s the kind of person who’s quick to react and take action. She could make only a few phone calls to relatives, friends, and colleagues before there was no connection. This was one of the big challenges at the time—not knowing what was happening to people. Equally challenging was helping colleagues find cash, fuel, and buses so they could leave Khartoum. She even remembers thinking how much of a miracle it was when the UN convoy arrived at the city of Port Sudan on April 24. People were scrambling to leave any way they could.

A week later, as the most senior national staff member, she was put in charge of UNHCR’s office in Sudan. The phone didn’t stop ringing. They were a team of six, and their role was to help their staff and refugees move out of hotspots to safer zones—a difficult task because, in their area, the shelling was very heavy. Her colleagues were terrified. Some needed money to movetheir children to safety, and some were stuck in areas where they couldn’t reach them. Every day, they would wake up and find that their neighbors’ houses were gone, and people were dead.

She thought the fighting would last for a week or two, a month maximum, if it even dragged on in the first place. But then there was no food or water, and they were seeing more soldiers in the streets. They reached a point during the fourth week when they really had to leave—and fast.

On the road to Madani, 85 miles southeast of Khartoum, she saw only destruction and death. She can never forget this—it’s like a horror film, but it’s one you can’t switch off. At one point, where they were held at gunpoint, saying their last prayers. But then the soldiers let them go.

On their journey, they reached the house of a family. They didn’t know them, and they didn’t know them. They insisted they stay with them—they brought them food and made the beds for them. In their house was the first time she felt at peace enough to sleep properly.

She set up the UNHCR office in Madani in early May, and then moved to Port Sudan a month later to establish [another]. Later she moved to Ethiopia to support UNHCR teams on the border with Sudan to receive arriving refugees.

The lives of Sudanese refugees in the countries they’ve fled to are very tough now. Some of them have left without documents. They are without a home, and some have been left with nothing. But as long as there are people who, despite their own worries, are willing to accept them, there is hope. She saw this generosity with the Ethiopian people – their willingness to accommodate Sudanese refugees, despite their own challenges. They opened their borders and accepted them. But it also requires the support of the whole international community and them humanitarian workers.

She feels she has aged so much this past year. This experience has changed all of them in Sudan. But she still has hope and confidence—in herself, in her family, in her team, in her work, and above all, in her country.

Sudan is a country that has tremendous resources. She believes this generation and future generations can perform miracles with the right support.

They can rise again and become better than when they started. This is what keeps her going. —As told to Sara Bedri