A Decade in Darfur: Mothers and Children at Risk
21 February 2013
Nawal, 27, was a little confused when people showed up at her thatched hut one day, asking about her baby daughter. “They measured her arm to see how thick it was,” she remembers.
Mariam Abdullah Adam had no milk to breastfeed her 45-day-old baby because "we have no food in the house," she says. A nutrition programme run by Norwegian Church Aid seeks out malnourished people and distributes a corn-soy mix to hungry families in Darfur's camps.
One thing wasn’t confusing: the family was hungry. “At home we don’t have any food,” she says simply. Though her husband earns some money as a daily labourer, there isn’t enough for the four children. “One of our little sons was in school, but he had to drop out. Our situation is bad.”
Nawal’s situation has been bad for almost a decade, ever since the day her home village in Darfur was attacked. Shot in the leg and hiding under a tree, “I thought I would die,” she remembers. Her mother did die that day.
With thousands of others, Nawal escaped to one of Sudan’s camps for displaced people. They were safer there, but could no longer earn a living by farming. Some camp residents do tasks like brickmaking, making enough money to buy the day’s kilo or two of grain. But many mothers are prevented by illness, danger, or bad luck from earning enough to feed their families, and watch helplessly as their children grow thinner.
Mariam’s husband works, but also drinks. “If he has 300 [Sudanese] pounds [40 euro] in his pocket, he’ll spend it all.” So Mariam leaves the safety of the camp to gather grass she can sell at the market. “It’s three hours by donkey each way. I collect 40 kg of grass,” she says. “I usually get grass about 4 days a week. On the journey, it’s really hot. My head hurts.”
Hard work and hunger mean Mariam doesn’t usually have enough milk to breastfeed her second child, a 45-day-old daughter. With her first child it was different—she was living on her family’s farm and ate vegetables, meat and milk often. Now, however, there’s almost no food in the house. “When I don’t have breastmilk, I give the baby cow’s milk,” she says. “Sometimes she gets diarrhea.”
Mothers like Nawal and Mariam are the people that nutrition teams focus on when they go door-to-door through the camps. With support from ACT Alliance and Caritas, local staff from Norwegian Church Aid (NCA) seek out mothers and children who don’t have enough food. Other mothers who know of NCA come directly to its health and nutrition centres--large thatched rooms with scales, height-checkers, and sacks of a corn-soy blend that provides protein and more.
Mariam, the nursing mother, also received extra rations. “I cooked some of it. It tastes good,” she says. “I felt stronger. I had milk for the baby.”
Mothers are the main ones standing in line to receive sacks of food, but other vulnerable people are given the corn-soy powder as well. “My family was killed, so no one can take care of me,” says a blind young woman who limps painfully. As she leaves the nutrition centre, an older neighbour shoulders the young woman’s sack and guides her back home.
The nutrition programme provides a vital safety net for hungry women and children who have no other options in Darfur’s teeming camps. “I knew I’d get help here,” says Mariam.
“Supplementary feeding is helping us a lot. If it wasn’t here, we’d really suffer,” says Nawal. Following the home visit, two of her children--including her baby daughter-- now receive extra rations.
Pregnant with her fifth child and still recovering from the trauma of the past, Nawal struggles to keep her spirits up. Seeing her baby getting stronger helps. When she realized what the door-to-door staffers were telling her about the nutrition programme, “I felt there was hope for my daughter. There was food here,” she says. “It was a good feeling.”
RESOURCESAnnual Report 2011Emergency GuidelinesEmergency Response Tool KitEmergency Appeals 2012Emergency Appeals 2011Emergency Appeals 2010Emergencies on Caritas BlogBridging the Gap between Policy and Practice