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A decade in Darfur: Call me Actcaritas

"Actcaritas" (otherwise known as Abakar and "Condoleezza Rice". Credit: Laura Sheahen/Act Caritas

“Actcaritas” (otherwise known as Abakar) and his relative “Condoleezza Rice”. Credit: Laura Sheahen/Act Caritas

Seldom has a joint programme between aid agencies made such a personal impression on an employee, but the partnership of ACT Alliance and Caritas—Protestants and Catholics helping Darfur–struck a cord with an aid worker in the region. Here, he describes why he likes his nickname.

My real first name is Abakar. But everyone calls me “Actcaritas.” I like it. When I go to the camps for displaced people, they all call me “Actcaritas.” My real name is lost.

I am logistics fleet assistant. I buy diesel in the market and take it to the camps. We use it to run the water systems, so the people have water. We used to need 30 drums of fuel for all the camps. Now that the programme has built solar-powered water stations, we use less fuel.

ACT/Caritas has supported NCA [Norwegian Church Aid] for a long time in Darfur. There were always very strong here. And they gave us a holiday bonus. ACT/Caritas is a quality donor.

My shirt has the ACT and Caritas logos. Any day I wear this shirt, I am happy. But this shirt is wearing out. It’s been five years.

This girl is my relative. Her mother calls her only by her nickname: Condoleezza Rice.

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A decade in Darfur: challenges and progress

Caritas' local partner trains residents of a camp for displaced peoplein Darfur to repair water systems. Credit: Laura Sheahen for ACT/Caritas

Caritas’ local partner trains residents of a camp for displaced people
in Darfur to repair water systems. Credit: Laura Sheahen for ACT/Caritas

By Laura Sheahen

“When we first came here, we were getting water from the valley, seven kilometers away.” Muhammad is a long-time resident of a camp in Darfur for people who fled violence. He remembers what it was like nearly a decade ago, when thousands of desperate people first arrived. “Farmers were settled closer to the valley, so we couldn’t live where the water was. But when we went to get water, they helped us.”

Ten years later, hundreds of thousands of people remain in Darfur’s camps. They’d like to go back to their villages, but until they can, Caritas-funded programmes are making sure they can live in dignity. 2013 marks 10 years of keeping vulnerable Darfuris alive and making their lives better.

Water is one example of the progress that’s been made. Muhammad’s camp is on dry, dusty land—some thorn trees, scrub brush, and baobabs grow there, but not much else. “For a while we carried water from the unprotected wells dug in the valley, but then we got hand pumps,” says Muhammad. Drilling inside the camp was difficult because the water
level is deep, but a local partner managed it. “Water is right where we live now. It’s helped us a lot,” said Muhammad.

As the years passed, Caritas support helped the partner drill more wells and make water systems in many camps easier and more efficient.

“Next we got motorized water pumps, but had to get fuel to run them,” said Muhammad. By 2012, the camps could make use of an inexhaustible resource in hot Darfur: “Now all the water systems are solar-powered.” Scattered around Muhammad’s camp are tanks connected to wide panels of solar cells. All camp residents—there are over
35,000—use the water. Neighbours from the host community also benefit: they come by with metal barrels on donkey carts to fill up.

The water’s first use is for drinking. The climate can be so dry that people get dehydrated if they’re not careful, says a doctor at a clinic supported by Caritas. But the water also keeps animals alive, so that women can take donkeys on journeys to gather grass from greener areas. People can wash their hands and bathe more often,
preventing the spread of disease. A spillway from tapstands directs water to lemon and mango trees, creating a small gardenlike oasis between dusty paths in the camp.

The water means the ubiquitous dust can be put to use in other ways, too. Bakhita, an energetic woman wearing a blue dress and turban, stands ankle-deep in a mud puddle she’s churned up using water from a plastic jerry can. Beside the puddle, large bricks she’s shaped from the mud are drying. “I’ll use these to make a house,” she says. “If the water pumps weren’t here, we couldn’t make these bricks. I’d just be thinking about how to get water to drink.”

Darfuris who have spent years in the camps continue to struggle. It’s not the place they wanted to be home. But for now, it is. And for ten years, bit by bit, Caritas programmes have been working to make it better.

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Filed under Africa, Aid Success Story, Conflicts and Disasters, Disaster Preparedness, Emergencies, Emergencies in Darfur and South Sudan, Peacebuilding, Sudan

Good day sunshine: Powering up Darfur

By Mohamed Nureldin/Act Caritas

Hazel Williams is the humanitarian coordinator for Darfur of CAFOD (Caritas England and Wales). She recently paid a visit to some of the many camps that house people who have fled fighting in the region. Caritas works with the Act Alliance of Protestant and Orthodox aid agencies in a unique ecumenical cooperation, through the operations of Norwegian Church Aid, Sudanaid (a Caritas member) and the Sudan Council of Churches.

Solar power is making an extraordinary difference in camps in Darfur, Sudan, by providing much needed water to those living there.

As we enter Khamsadigay camp, which houses just under 20,000 people, we weave through narrow alleys between the temporary structures that people have slowly erected over the last eight or nine years. It’s a Friday morning, so the dusty burnt orange sand tracks are illuminated by groups of flowing white galabiyas – the traditional robes that Dafurian men wear for Friday prayers.

We are here to visit a solar powered water pump that provides 29 litres of water to each person living in the camp per day. It’s really quite amazing just how much water the camp has. They may suffer many challenges, but thanks to our local partner’s programme and the community’s commitment, water is definitely not one of them.

As we stand under the large solar panels, with the sun glaring down on us, one of my guides, from our partner Norwegian Church Aid (NCA), starts to explain how solar power has transformed the lives of those living within the camp. The provision of water only uses a very small amount of the power produced – and given how my skin is burning, I can well believe these panels are working overtime. Continue reading

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The view from Darfur

Sunrise over thatched huts in Darfur. Paul Jeffrey ACT/Caritas.

By John U Birchenough, Country Funding Manager, Norwegian Church Aid (NCA is a Caritas partner)

The four men who sit opposite me are members of the Rizegat, an Arab tribe and are nomads. I have been introduced to them by El Fadil Abdullah Tambour the coordinator for the NCA Darfur Emergency Program Response Unit (Caritas works through NCA in Darfur). Tambour has worked and come into contact with them previously when his unit provided them with some non food items which they had requested.

I open our conversation by telling them that I have come from Europe and that one of the reasons I am here is to write about some of the people we work with in-order to share this with the different supporters of the programme in other countries. Many of them know very little about Sudan and the way of life of the Sudanese beyond what they see on television. The men nod their heads in understanding, and after expressing thanks to the programme for the support that it has provided them, start to tell me about whom they are and where they come from.

A long time ago their sub-tribe the Mahariya came from Kutum in North Darfur. About thirty years ago there was a drought and the tribe went in search of fresh grazing and water. They came to South Darfur but many of their animals perished because of the drought and disease. Since 1974 they have stayed in one place. In the old days they had camels, but since they lost them they only have goats and sheep and a few cows.

Their settlement is called a Damra in Arabic; the Damra consists of about fourteen hundred households, although the number fluctuates. Other members of the sub-tribe are scattered around different parts of south Darfur.

I ask them whether life has changed a lot over the years. The response is interesting. I have expected them to talk about the difference in lifestyle, this they do not talk about though. Instead they talk about education. “Our fathers did not push us to educate ourselves” they tell me. “The children used to spend their time in the wadis.”

“Over the past five years since the arrival of the international NGO’s we have realised how important it is to have an education for our children, so today we are encouraging our children to go to school”.

“Life is also more difficult today; before you could easily pick up your stick, take your goat or a sheep and walk to market in El Fashir for example. Today there is more insecurity and movement is more difficult“.

Today men from the community work as cattle drovers or they work in the cattle market in places like Nyala as mediators between buyers and sellers of cattle. Others go and look for work further away, even as far as Egypt and Libya. Women go out to collect firewood to sell.

It is not always easy to find assistance for the very vulnerable such as old people without work and the government is not always able to fulfill needs quickly.

The leaders of the sub-tribe heard that INGO’s had come to Darfur to help people in need and they went to OCHA who gave them a list of organizations who might be able to help them. On that list was NCA.

This was how they met Tambour. They wanted assistance for vulnerable households and asked Tambour if NCA could provide them with Jerry cans and shelter material. NCA did an assessment and provided them with support. They also asked Sudanaid for plastic mats for children to sit on in their classrooms.

A local NGO has built the community two classrooms; the community contributed two classrooms itself.  The classrooms are built of local materials that need to be replaced every eight months or so, but at least it is an opportunity for the children to study.

When I ask the men about the future their emphasis is again on education.

“People can lose riches, but they can’ t lose their knowledge, if they have an education there is always a future for them, that is why we want to invest in a better future for our children through improving their education environment.”

They also tell me about the traditional way of learning and of the ”Khalwa” which they also want to develop and principles of learning for all, old and young, promoting culture, spiritual values and addressing global changes.

We talk about the possibilities for peaceful coexistence and what is necessary; the men tell me about how in their area Rizegat, Fur, Birgit and Zaghawa try to live peacefully.

“The problems that all communities and tribes face are with criminality; there needs to be respect for the law and justice which people need to put before tribal considerations” someone says.

As one man puts it to me; “we expect a peaceful life again one day, but we need to be honest in dealing with problems, honest within our own and with other communities and honest with each other”.

With these parting words about honesty the Sheikh and other men again express thanks for the assistance received and depart back to their lives in the Damra and hopefully a more secure future for their children.

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