Chad

Our work in Chad focussed around the Sudanese refugees, forced to flee the genocide in South Sudan over a decade ago. With over 99,000 refugees living in four of the largest camps, Cord have been working with these people since 2005, and our role has grown and developed hugely in that time. 

It is something of an 'altered' society model with which we must work - and this presents challenges of its own. People in the camps are not allowed to move more than 2km from the camp, for their own security, which leads to a very insular style of living.

Shortage of firewood has caused conflict with Chadian locals and their food is largely determined by the UN. Chad itself was not equipped to take in such a large number of refugees (numbering 280,000 in total across 12 camps) - ranked the 5th lowest on the 2011 Human Development Index. The Chadian people need our help, too, to minimise the impact of the Sudanese refugees on their resources and, in time, help to create a positive contribution to the country. 

And it's not an easy place to live - with 45 degree heat and dust storms in summer, and the risk of hypothermia in winter, together with destructive rains in the wet season, making this a challenge just to get through each day. 

But - we are humbled by the resilience and fortitude of the Sudanese refugees. They have built communities, civil societies - have worked to contribute to their own sustainable future and, most impressively, they have committed themselves heart and soul to educating their children. The school network is impressive, the results are outstanding, both boys and girls are believing in their futures and achieving high school attendances and academic results. We have trained teachers, built classrooms and toilets - developed an educational infrastructure that is creating generations of educated young people...some of whom are now teachers themselves. 

Parent groups are, with our help, developing small enterprises to fund the schools - finding ways to regain independence from aid. Our solar cooker project is hugely successful and has greatly alleviated pressure on local resources of firewood. This is the first project that is going to directly and positively impact on the local Chadian people, as the refugees participate in rolling out a programme to provide this incredible resource to their host neighbours, too.

The connecting flight was cancelled on the way to Farchana, the main base for Cord’s work in the refugee camps in Eastern Chad.

So plan B was a longer drive at the other end. It was worth it though to feel a sense of arriving somewhere rather than just dropping in. And of the landscape, a composition of subtle, watercolour washes to the horizon, under-coat for sharper detail not yet given shape. The pinkish-brown dusty dirt road and dry, sandy river beds; yellow-green patches of grassy stubble trying to do its best under the circumstances but fading a bit with the effort; grey- green shrubs whose vicious thorns, that can shred anything, even give goats pause to nibble carefully. In the distance the pale blue sky gradually lifting clear of the ground- hugging haze. All counting the weeks to rain.

The other colour today was a brighter yellow. It stood out more because it was in a quite dark room. Hawa Ramadan Abdalla was wearing it. She has 5 children aged 10- 13 and is 35 years old. She volunteered her age. We had a laugh when I said I hadn’t asked because, where I come from, it’s not something you ask a lady you just met!

Hawa was waiting for a mechanic to come and fix the flour mill. Looking a bit bored, it must be said, leaning on the hopper where the maize goes in, as the guy hadn’t shown up when he said he would. But she still had to wait in case he did finally. The Parent’s Association she is in operate the grinder to make some money to spend on the school her children go to. Everyone needs to turn their maize into flour. Gradually added and constantly stirred into boiling water it becomes almost solid, filling porridge. A staple accompaniment to a bean stew, maybe some vegetables or a special occasion fish or chicken - a tough, village one that’s spent its life running around escaping the pot.

The UN agencies’ diminishing budgets mean less money for schools. ‘Encouraging self-sufficiency’ is the spin. Teachers had a one-month cut in their allowance last year, from 12 months to 11, this year to 10. The food ration to refugees (and all the teachers are refugees) was recently cut too so nearly 2/3 of the food they relied on, they now have to find some other way. Many are starting to think of leaving teaching altogether. A few already have. It turns out being a farm labourer can be a better option. So Parents Associates, like Hawa’s, have to raise the money to help pay teachers, repair school roofs, doors and desks, buy books and chalk. Get self- sufficient; easy to say. So she has to wait.