I can’t honestly claim that I’ve ever been displaced. I’ve never been forced to leave my home, nor have I experienced the assumed feelings that are correlated with returning to a place that was once familiar, only to find that that place has transformed into something utterly unrecognizable.
To the most minor degree my recent return to Tessou, a small village tucked within the foothills of Eastern Chad, simulated these feelings of displacement, this sense of disorientation. And the craziest thing is that these feelings came after I’d only been to Tessou ONCE before, for only ONE DAY.
In 2004, the Janjaweed (a horribly violent rebel group) attacked Tessou, forcing its residents to flee – leaving all possessions, and even some family members, behind. For years afterward the people of Tessou resided in neighboring villages and, primarily, Gassire Internally Displaced Persons camp.
Talk about displacement.
Weary and fed up with living off of someone else’s land, where they were unable to farm or provide for themselves, the community members slowly started returning to their home. But they came back to Tessou only to find it completely deserted and charred – all homes had been burned, livestock stolen, and possessions demolished.
But to the people of Tessou, no matter its ravaged appearance, the land remained their home. And in this once familiar, now unrecognizable village, it was time to begin anew.
I arrived in Tessou in July of 2013 to find a small number of dilapidated huts haphazardly situated on, what appeared to be, a massive dirt compound. Within the compound was a single tree – the only remaining evidence of a once populated and lively village. Everything I saw was brown – from the ground to the huts to the dirt covering people’s bodies. Because the nearest water source was an hour walk away, cleanliness was a low priority.
Last month I once again found myself sitting in a World Concern vehicle, bumping along the road from Goz Beida to Tessou. I was anxious to return. Stories of had been circulating about the community’s transformations, but I had yet to see them for myself.
As our car pulled up to a village so densely surrounded in sorghum, trees, and maize, I figured we must be lost. This was not the Tessou I knew. Why were there so many homes? Where was the group of men and women sitting under the single tree? Why was everything so…green?
I did not recognize Tessou one bit. I felt disoriented. But this time it was for the best of reasons.
In the last year, partnering with World Concern’s One Village Transformed program, the people of Tessou have rebuilt their village from the ground up. In fact, they have far surpassed their state of development prior to the Janjaweed attacks!
Firstly, Tessou now has clean and accessible water. This is huge.
“Before we got our new well, we used to walk one hour each way to collect water,” shared 20-year-old Tena. “But now Tessou is better. We have clean water that we can use for preparing our food, drinking, bathing, and for washing our clothes.”
According to Tena, people no longer get sick from drinking water, “If they get sick, it is caused by something else.”
“Now that we have a water pump we can use the water for food, we can wash our clothes, and we can bathe easily,” 35-year-old Fatuma said. “We no longer have to travel to collect water at the local, dirty source.”
“We are working on making bricks to be used for a school and maybe even a health center,” Tena explained. “If there is a school here, I want to go. I want to be a big woman like you.”
And then there are the agricultural improvements – since moving back to the village, many people have returned to farming. And because they now have accessible water, their farms are flourishing. And because their farms are flourishing, World Concern is partnering with the farmers to develop their skills even further.
One more thing – Tessou is now home to organized savings groups.
“I am the president of our community savings group,” shared Fatuma. “Each woman involved contributes money. Together we have bought some bags of seeds and have even hired people to cultivate our seeds.”
As a gathering of 25 women, Fatuma’s savings group hopes to save enough money to contribute to purchasing a community mill. The group also serves as a distributor of loans, “If a member is in trouble or wants to start a small business, she can borrow money from the group and pay it back later.“
Both Tena and Fatuma’s testimonies are two prime examples of the transformations that are possible when a community is empowered and willing to develop themselves. The unrecognizable Tessou that I recently experienced is so full energy and motivation that it is palpable – these people are ready to improve their way of life. And, most importantly, they are elated to be the hands and feet facilitating their own transformations.