Monthly Archives: July 2013

To be as we once were… And then some. // Chad

Kaltouma. // Harako, Chad.

Kaltouma. // Harako, Chad.

Flying in a minuscule (ok, it wasn’t that small, but smaller than my typically ‘large and sturdy’ plane size preference) World Food Program (WFP) airplane between N’Djamena (Chad’s capital city) and Goz Beida (barely considered a town – try to look for it on a map, I dare yah), I had no clue how to envision the people and land that would greet me in the following hours. At the time, all I was able to envision were the pilots sitting one row in front of me (see, I wasn’t exaggerating too much…this was a small plane!) and my jumping hands.

Goz Beida airport. This friend is the larger version of the plane I took entering GB. // Chad.

Goz Beida airport. This friend is the larger version of the plane I took entering GB. // Chad.

For 45 minutes, the plane seemed to cruise up and suddenly dip down, as if dodging birds while simultaneously riding a roller-coaster air wave – that little thing was giving gravity a fight worth writing home about.

Splitting clouds and navigating over an expanse of unknown land below, I pondered the little I did know about Chad – information that made me feel a bit queasy (…or maybe we should just call this motion sickness?):

Chad.

A landlocked country – neighbors with Libya to the north, Sudan to the east, Central African Republic to the south, Niger to the west, and Cameroon and Nigeria to the southwest.

Cruising through Chad.

Cruising through Chad.

Due to its snug position surrounded by multiple conflict-ridden regions, and its voluminous land mass (slightly larger than three times the state of California), some refer to Chad as a “large dumping pot for refugees, IDPs, and immigrants.”

Though I don’t ever think human life should be referred to as being ‘dumped’, unfortunately, this ‘pot’ analogy is not too far-fetched…

– Due to various political insurgencies, rebel groups, and widespread violence, Chad is currently home to close to 70,000 Central African Republic and 300,000 Sudanese refugees.
– Over the last two years, the government of Chad has done everything possible for internal security. 90,000 Chadians are currently living in IDP (Internally Displaced Person) camps, and another 91,000 former Chadian IDPs are in the process of relocating, or returning, to their home villages.
– Since 2011, there has been an increase in Libyan hostilities, forcing 150,000 Chadian returnees to arrive in Chad.
– Chadians continue to re-enter Nigeria and Libya by the thousands – instability is forcing them back home.

As reported by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), 80% of Chad’s population lives below the poverty line. Only 34% of its residents age 15 and older can read and write. And according to the United Nations (UN), 2.1 million people remain food-insecure in Chad, including 1.2 million people at risk of extreme food insecurity.

My friends, these are some serious and indicative statistics.

—————————————————————————————————————————–

Maramara, Chad.

Maramara, Chad.

Village Profile: Maramara // Ready for Change

In the village of Maramara, the above numbers are tangible, coming to life in the form of the mothers, fathers, children, and chiefs:

Situated over two hours outside of Goz Beida, beneath the sporadic shadows of the surrounding jagged hills, Maramara hosts an indigenous community of about 1,000 Chadians. Though they are fortunate to have avoided any incidents with militant groups, the community remains painfully positioned at the bottom of the development scale. In other words, for decades, the people of Maramara have been surviving.

Hanging out with these pumpkins. // Maramara, Chad.

Hanging out with these pumpkins. // Maramara, Chad.

The nearest water source is a three hour journey away.

“The water that we gather is not clean. When I come back I am so tired that I barely have the power to cook. The water is the disease that is killing people here.”
– Fatouma, Maramara resident, 30 years old

Though residents have cultivated some food in the past year, in part due to a recent World Concern agricultural program, the prior years were spent scraping by on inefficient farming methods.

Like many of the surrounding villages, Maramara has neither a school nor a hospital.

Fortunately, the people of Maramara are aware of their situation and strongly desire to develop their village.

According to World Concern’s Chad Country Director, Athanase, “The people are willing to change. They have proved themselves very capable of farming and brick-making. They understand where they are and where their resource capacity ends – and this is where World Concern can fill in.”

Fatouma. // Maramara, Chad.

Fatouma. // Maramara, Chad.

“Everywhere the people are suffering. So where else will I go? I want to stay here and work – to improve my village.” – Fatouma

———————————————————————————————————————–

Homeless at Home

Sila Region, Chad.

Sila Region, Chad.

The Sila region, located in eastern Chad, hosts a high concentration of refugees, returnees, IDPs, and indigenous at-risk communities. Outside of the IDP camps, the vast majority of people in this area live without access to clean, or as the locals would say, ‘potable’, water. Additionally, the region is lacking in schools and hospitals. The location, its lack of resources, and the acute poverty combined make the people living in Sila a susceptible target to the Janjaweed and other local militant groups.

As reported by the Human Rights Watch (HRW), originally supported and provided with arms by Chadian militant leaders, the Janjaweed have been laying waste to eastern Chad since 2004. They are brutal, unpredictable, and (to anyone without firearms – meaning most everyone in these rural villages) unstoppable. In their presence, the villagers are defenseless – facing no other option but to run for the bush or courageously fight by hand (in most cases the outcome of such has not been positive).

[Personal blurb. While the Janjaweed’s actions are entirely unacceptable – here is something I encourage you to consider (a thought which I always find to be both humbling and eye-opening): The Janjaweed are equally human, and their motives and way of life stem from living in vulnerable, difficult circumstances as well. If you’re able, think of them from this frame of reference.]

Yaya and his lovely family. // Amkrereribe, Chad.

Yaya and his lovely family. // Amkréréribé, Chad.

According to Yaya Harun, a 21-year-old recent returnee and resident of Amkréréribé, “When the Janjaweed came there was nothing we could do. They had guns and we had nothing. Fortunately we were warned of the possibility by a neighboring village.”

Referring to the horrific Janjaweed attacks, the HRW stated, “Government soldiers did little to protect civilians from these exactions, and in many cases were themselves responsible for abuses.”

“When we came back to the village to bury the dead, the Janjaweed came again – killing eight more people.” – Yaya

—————————————————————————————————————————–

Standing in the new school. // Harako, Chad.

Standing in the new school. // Harako, Chad.

Village Profile: Harako // Resilient Returnees

Kaltam and her beautiful handicrafts. // Harako, Chad.

Kaltam and her beautiful handicrafts. // Harako, Chad.

At 25-years-old, Kaltam is my age-mate. This is one of the few things we have in common.

For Kaltam, growing up in Harako was difficult, yet memorably peaceful.

Due to Harako’s vulnerability, while she was still young, Kaltam’s community was attacked by the Janjaweed and she was forced to flee with her family. As a consequence of the raid, over 20 innocent people were killed. Kaltam spent the next four years living in Gassire, an Internally Displaced Persons camp near Goz Beida (a full day’s walk from Harako).

A few years ago, Kaltam returned to Harako with her husband and two children. Along with everyone else, she arrived to find nothing – her home turned to ashes and property stolen.

When we met, I found out that Kaltam is now a single mother of two.

Kaltam and her little ones. // Harako, Chad.

Kaltam and her little ones. // Harako, Chad.

“It is very hard for me, but I have to trust in God. We are not getting much food, all I have left are these few seeds from my husband, but he said he will come and take everything.”

Like Maramara, the people of Harako have survived for decades sans clean drinking water, schools, and hospitals. Most who fled during the attack have been slow to return to the village as they are fearful of further incidences (and Gassire provides clean water and education).

Through World Concern’s One Village Transformed program, the people of Harako are returning in large numbers. After working with its residents to construct a deep-well, their first ever clean water source, Harako’s passion to re-build and improve their village has increased tenfold. Initiating it on their own, the people of Harako worked together to collect sand and gravel to build hundreds of bricks for their first ever school. Even the chief jumped in the mud to take part in the brick assembling process.

Girls will be girls. She rocks these shades far better than I do. // Harako, Chad.

Girls will be girls. She rocks these shades far better than I do. // Harako, Chad.

“I have seen Harako now, and it is better than last year. We have a school and potable water. I will be very happy to go back to school. I will go with my children!” – Kaltam

———————————————————————————————————————–

“We have lost everything.”

Spending time with the men, women and children who have bravely returned to what’s left of their villages (literally nothing – houses burned, livestock stolen, millet fed to the rebel’s cows), I have heard the same horrific stories over and over again.

Though, by western standards, these communities had very little to begin with, most everyone told me beautiful stories of how wonderful their lives were prior to the Janjaweed.

There were thousands of cows and goats. There was plenty of millet to eat. They had three grass huts each.

According to 34-year-old Abdillahi, “Before the Janjaweed people came, I lived with my two wives, brother-in-law, and children in our seven homes. We had over 30 cows. They took everything – even the millet we had farmed.”

Abdulai between his new home and the remains of that which was burned by the Janjaweed. // N'djamena Village, Chad.

Abdillahi stands between his new home (he returned 3 months prior) and the remains of that which was burned by the Janjaweed. // N’djamena Village, Chad.

Inside the home he shares with his two sons. The rest of the family will remain in the IDP camp until he has finished rebuilding their homes and deems N'djamena ready for re-establishment. // Chad.

Inside the home he shares with his two sons. The rest of the family will remain in the IDP camp until he has finished rebuilding their homes and deems N’djamena ready for re-establishment. // Chad.

It is in these places, with these uncharacteristically resilient people, that World Concern works – focusing on restoring and developing returnee villages and partnering with extremely vulnerable communities.

[IMPORTANT: Please note – all of this is not to say that the people of Chad are helpless, or without resources. It is to say that there are millions of skilled, intelligent, and capable Chadians who are innocent victims of an unjust society and a violently tainted political history.]

—————————————————————————————————————————–

Moving Toward Rebuilding, Renewing, Restoration.

Buddies walk to check out their new school building -  built by the community. // Harako, Chad

Buddies walk to check out their new school building – built by the community. // Harako, Chad

On a weekly basis, World Concern staff ventures two or more hours each way to sit with people. To hear their stories – their struggles, their triumphs, their dreams.

They spend hours conversing – deciding how everyone in the community can contribute their skills to partner with World Concern’s resources – to make their villages as they once were, and then some. To develop their villages in order to decrease vulnerability, create sustainability, and empower individuals may be living as victims to living as empowered human beings – a privilege worth of all.

Drinking from the recently constructed well. // Harako, Chad.

Drinking from the recently constructed well. // Harako, Chad.

I cannot fully express the urgency of these situations. In my short life, I have witnessed extreme poverty in a variety of countries – but something feels different about eastern Chad. The need is tangible in a way that it causes my heart to palpitate, as if wanting to explode out of my chest and love on every person in a big way – a way that I am not capable of. A way that, more than ever, prods me to desire super human powers, so that I can dig wells, build schools, and train midwives. Though these feelings of mine may sound a bit trivial, and erring on the side of cliched – they remind me that development, if done well, takes time and equal contributions by all – partnership is key!

‘I’ cannot be the one to build the schools. ‘I’ cannot educate communities. ‘I’ cannot dig wells. But with your partnership and the proper resources, Chadians can.

You can be a part of restoring lives and developing villages like Tessou and Maramara.

For more information, check out World Concern’s One Village Transformed Program here.

***Sources: CIA, World Fact Book, UNHCR, UNICEF, Forbes

This is not easy. // Tessou, South Sudan

In my attempt to share the stories of individuals in a way that depicts truth, dignity, and humanity, I have very cautiously walked a fine line – intending to strike a balance between facts, truth, and emotion.

Here is my confession: In pursuing honest storytelling with such strong conviction, and out of the fear of warping a story so that it appears more emotional, painful, or heartbreaking than it really is, I have erred on the side of unemotional and detached.

I strongly believe that being given the platform to literally be a voice on behalf another human being is not a role to be taken lightly.

Let me be straight – I’m here to say that this is not easy, and it should never be easy. I willingly carry the burden of the power of words – words that can depict someone as hopeless, weak, and helpless or hopeful, skillful, and able. I’m here to let you know that I’m committed to using my words in a way that is honest and with purpose. I am honored to be a voice for the voiceless and even more honored that you support me in doing so.

Phew, with that being said… Yesterday I traveled to a village called Tessou (by the way, I’m in Eastern Chad). It would be a disservice to tell the story of the people of Tessou without evoking strong emotions (it was here that my convictions were shaken).

Fence destroyed by the previous night's storm. // Tessou, Chad

Fence destroyed by the previous night’s storm. //  Tessou, Chad

“We would rather die here than in the camps.”

After driving two hours on bumpy, muddy dirt roads (you’ve heard that one before, right?), my colleagues and I arrived to find the people of Tessou in disarray. Surrounded by jagged hills, Tessou sits in a flat, open, and seemingly endlessly arid stretch of land – vulnerable to, well, most everything. In fact, the night before our visit, a massive storm came through and completely flattened the grass fences and huts that make up the village. We arrived to toppled thatch roofs and fences turned to mats.

View from the car. // Chad

View from the car. // Chad

Heartbreaking as this initially was, upon sitting and sharing with the people I quickly realized that this was a minor incident in comparison to the tragedies this community has endured.

Since 2004, the Janjaweed (armed militia rebels, originating in Sudan) have attacked Tessou three times (most recently in 2009); each time killing, raping, stealing, and burning people, animals, and property. [More to come on the history of conflict in Chad in the following posts.] After the first attack on Tessou, the survivors were forced to flee for their lives – carrying only the clothes on their backs and hiding in the bush for weeks. Eventually they made their way to Gassire IDP (Internally Displaced Persons) camp in Goz Beida (a full day’s journey away), where they have remained for the past 10 years.

Though the camp provides its residents with safety, clean water, and education, it allows no space for personal farming; in other words, the IDPs cannot grow food for themselves. Their lives in the camp are not self-sustaining.

In 2011, the Chadian government announced “A Year of Return” for all IDPs – encouraging that they move back to their villages and that all NGOs halt their enabling operations within the camps. Without personal land for cultivation, or NGO food distributions, the IDPs remaining in Gassire faced a threatening food shortage.

For the past ten years, eager to farm and re-claim their wrongfully stolen land, the people of Tessou have attempted to resettle multiple times. But resettling is a process: first the men travel to the village to do a survey, sleeping in the bush overnight and keeping watch for intruders. The men then go back to the camps and inform their family whether or not it is safe to make the move; if proven safe, families pack up the little they have and prepare for a full day journey (most likely on donkey). Most families arrive home to nothing, sleeping under trees for up to weeks until grass-woven shelters are built. More likely than not, there is no nearby water source (or the nearest source, which is not clean, is over an hour away) and whatever food they have has been brought with them from the camps.

Surveying the damage // Chad

Surveying the storm’s damage // Chad

Tragically, there has been no solid re-establishment in Tessou as the Janjaweed have continued to kill, destroy, and preserve an environment of fear and vulnerability.

Now, a few years post the 2009 attack (four people were killed), Tessou is starting from scratch. Though they were once pastoralists, their main source of income, all of their livestock were stolen by the Janjaweed. People are returning from Gassire completely empty-handed. In order to survive, Tessou residents are working to compensate their income via farming. Unfortunately, Eastern Chad’s environment is incredibly harsh and the rains only come a few months out of each year – often so forcefully that they lead to flooding (similarly to the conditions in South Sudan). [If it means anything, the average temperature in Chad is 83 degrees Farenheit.]

A large number of people killed and many still remaining in the IDP camp, Tessou is less than half the size it once was.

Abdel. Lifetime resident of Tessou. // Chad

Abdel. Lifetime resident of Tessou. // Chad

When talking with Abdel, an elderly man born and raised in Tessou (He claims 55 years old. I’d respectfully beg to differ.), I asked him about his hopes for the future of his village. He repeatedly told me,
“I pray that Tessou will one day be large as it was before. I hope that one day I will be able to build a home so that my family will join me from the camps.” [Abdel has been trying to build a home for his family for the past four years. Each time he has come close to finishing, the Janjaweed have returned and he has had to run back to the camps. This man does not give up.]

For now, the people of Tessou sleep under fragile grass huts. They are constantly sick from the water that they travel for hours each day to gather. They have no schools; in fact, no one knows how to read or write. Their livestock are few (read: three animals in the entire village). And they still live in fear that the Janjaweed may come again.

[It is so easy for me to say the word ‘fear’ without understanding its full depth. In the context of Tessou, the word fear stems from losing as many as 40 of your family members; from seeing your father shot in front of you; from hiding in the bush; from watching your mother being beaten; from seeing your neighbor’s family killed and their home burned. This is a fear that still, 10 years later, permeates your every waking moment. According to Amereran, when I asked her if she still lives in fear, she smirked and said, “Of course I am afraid. I never stop thinking about the attacks. I cannot forget them. How can you forget seeing dead people laying all over the ground.” This is fear I will, hopefully, never fully understand.]

"______" - // Chad

“In Gassire, life is very hard. Even if we’re going to die, its better to work hard here. At least we have room to farm.”  – Amereran // Chad

Yet, the people of Tessou are hopeful and courageous. They are genuinely happy to be back on their land (many born and raised here).They acknowledge that, “This life is not easy, but one day we will have our village back…It is better to die here than in the camps.” – Amereran.

I am still not entirely sure how to process all that I saw and heard throughout my day spent in Tessou. The lives and stories of the people are so detached from anything I’ve ever personally experienced that my mind categorizes them as somehow ‘unreal’ (and there are too many other villages in Chad and Sudan who share these same experiences). I am haunted by, and will never forget, the stories and events from Tessou.

————————————————————————————————————————–

What encourages me is that the people of Tessou are capable. They are strong, skilled individuals who, given the proper resources, will rebuild their village in a heartbeat. I am beyond excited that Tessou has been chosen by World Concern as a potential village of partnership through our One Village Transformed(OVT) Program. On the needy scale, this village is breaking the weight capacities.

Joy in all circumstances. // Tessou, Chad

Joy in all circumstances. // Tessou, Chad

“We hope to see our village as it once was.”

This is my appeal. In the coming months, I will be posting a series of detailed stories about the people of Chad, World Concern’s work, and how you can partner with this work. Please, take time to consider supporting World Concern as we partner with unjustly underprivileged individuals to reach their fullest capacity.

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly.”
– Martin Luther King, Jr.

This is my second appeal. Please hold me accountable to sharing the upcoming stories in a way that can only be described as just, truthful, and dignified.

If not, I may have to inundate you with more bi-monthly confessions. 🙂