It’s hard to know where Khamsa Dagaig camp starts and ends; as we weave our way through Dickensian-like narrow alleys between makeshift houses that sit higgledy-piggledy on top of each other.
We finally reach our destination – a small mud brick home, made up of two rooms. Sitting outside we find Rawia* staring into the distance, her dark navy toub – traditional dress – tightly wrapped around her.
In a quiet voice she tells me that her husband has recently died, and now she worries how she will take care of her three children; 13, 6 and 4 years of age.
“With no husband I worry every day how I am going to cope; how will I pay for food, school fees and medicine when the children fall sick, it is a big responsibility that troubles me.”
Rawia lives in the smallest of Zalingei’s three camps in Sudan’s Central Darfur region; she is one of many vulnerable families that have been identified by the local Sheik and Caritas’s partner Norwegian Church Aid (NCA), who have provided Rawia with household items such as plastic buckets and a jerry can. They’ve also built a latrine and her family is registered with the nutrition team, so that her younger children can be consistently monitored.
Rawia and her family were one of the first waves of people to arrive at Khamsa Dagaig camp forced from their village because of fighting.
“It was 10am we had said prayers and I was getting ready to put the fatoul [breakfast] on the table, when suddenly there was shooting. I was so afraid; we didn’t even get to eat.
“We gathered what belongings we could carry and took our first born child and our elderly parents and escaped to the mountain area.”
Rawia has tried to make a living collecting wood, but explains that this is a dangerous task for women to do.
“When I leave the camp to collect wood, I face great difficulties. I have to cross into the valley, and there you find men with guns who demand that you pay them before you can collect the wood.
“If you refuse, they threaten to harm you with their guns.”
Camps like Khamsa Dagaig are located in areas where small arms are easily obtainable, making security and protection of civilians an ongoing issue, and forcing many camp residents to stay within the confines of camp areas.
The shrieks of children playing, donkeys braying and the camp grinding mill clattering away, meld into a cacophony of sound, as Rawia walks through the camp to collect her maize ration from the grinding mill.
Here, people have so little, yet they still find ways and means to support their vulnerable neighbours. Through the Sheik and elders, people give what they can afford; tomatoes, bread, cooking oil for example, and this is distributed to vulnerable families like Rawia’s.
“The support I get from NCA and the camp community is what I hold onto – it is all I have, without it I do not know how I would cope.
“Here in this camp NCA still ‘walk with us’ they try to help by giving us a lot of support.
“The world may have forgotten us, but not NCA.”
A situation whereby 3.5 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance, of which 1.4 million remain in camps dependent on aid, is not a sustainable one. Rawia and her children only have a future if a political solution is made to ensure lasting peace and security in the region.
Rawia holds fast to this hope.
“We cannot return to our village this very day, because we still hear news of troubles – looting and killings.
“But I still hope and I pray that my children will one day be able to freely leave this camp without fear in their hearts.”
*Name changed on request