Mastora Bakhiet, executive director of the Darfur Women’s Network and co-founder of the organization, is no longer with the agency. The organization’s executive board voted to eliminate her position in February, and Bakhiet is still struggling to make sense of the decision.
Bakhiet, an immigrant from Darfur, helped create the network in 2007 to help people in Darfur, as well as refugees already in Fort Wayne. Until September 2011 Bakhiet lived in Fort Wayne with her family. She helped build the board and set up the organization. However, now she lives in Indianapolis.
Mindy Walker, president of the board, said because of Bakhiet’s irregular contact with the board it made it impossible for them to continue using her in the local organization.
The whole episode, Bakhiet said, has left her disillusioned. She feels she had been taken advantage of and is worried about the future of the organization that no longer has any ethnic representation on its board.
Bakhiet would like to continue her work but doesn’t feel she should have to go through the whole effort of starting an organization again when she created the one in Fort Wayne. Bakhiet said she believed as the founder of the organization her position couldn’t be eliminated.
Bakhiet said she moved to Indianapolis in September 2011 so her children could have better educational opportunities at a Muslim school. At that time Bakhiet said she told Walker about her decision to move, but also told Walker she would like to continue in her role as executive director of the organization. At that time Bakhiet said Walker gave her no indication that this would not be acceptable.
Walker said she was stunned by Bakhiet’s quick decision to move but took a wait-and-see approach to her continuing in her position. She encouraged Bakhiet to inform the other members of the board, which she did, according to Walker, in late October. The board was surprised, as Bakhiet had been their gateway to the local Sudanese refugee community.
Walker said she and Bakhiet had previously been in close contact, exchanging phone calls or email about once a day when Bakhiet was in Fort Wayne. Walker said once Bakhiet moved the organization heard very little from her. Bakhiet said she kept up contact on a regular basis but heard little from Walker.
Walker said after months of infrequent contact with the organization by Bakhiet the board decided to vote to eliminate the executive director position. Walker said it was a difficult decision and the board consulted with their attorney; according to the organization’s bylaws, they were within their rights to do eliminate the position.
Bakhiet said she was stunned by their decision and said Walker had been impossible to get a hold of and had not been returning her calls or email.
Walker said she encouraged the board not to have contact with Bakhiet after Bakhiet threatened legal action against the board.
Bakhiet said she never threatened legal action but had told Walker she was going to conduct an investigation into why her position was eliminated.
Walker said the agency is just trying to move on and continue with its work. Since Bakhiet is no longer with the organization their connection into the local Sudanese community has been limited. They recently established contacts with a group that is building a clinic for women in southern Sudan that Walker found through the Ohio State Alumni Magazine. They established a connection with them and have sent them $600 for the clinic. Walker said the agency currently has five people on the board, but could have up to 20. She said they have been selective in who they ask, as it takes just the right fit to help the board run.