Driven from their Land, Darfur Farmers Learn New Ways of Earning a Livelihood
The International Refugee Committee has begun teaching occupational skills to the throngs of farmers driven from their land in the violent Darfur region of western Sudan.
The farmers in the vast IRC-managed Hassehessa and Hamedya camps in West Darfur have already been provided with materials for making soap and are now getting the tools, training and other supplies needed for carpentry and brick making.
“They’ve asked for this and are very happy.” said Gerson Brandao, an IRC field manager. “These are new skills and a new way of earning a livelihood.”
Most of the 60,000 in the two camps come from surrounding villages that were laid waste by a rival ethnic group beholden to the government.
They are among the 1.2 million black Africans uprooted by the pro-Arab Janjaweed militias during the last 18 months. More than 50,000 have died, the majority murdered in a grisly campaign of ethnic cleansing.
Almost all of the adults in the Hassehessa and Hamedya camps were farmers from the Fur tribe, the prime target of the Janjaweed. Though repatriation is the ultimate goal of human rights organizations, many of the displaced believe the government was complicit in their displacement and hold out little hope of returning to their land and former livelihood.
The IRC has launched the long-term income generation programs at the Zalingei camps because they are relatively secure, though still lacking in many basic resources. The influx of 60,000 people into a destitute city of 100,000 has put pressure on local resources.
The IRC, in partnership with the Ministry of Education and UN Children’s Fund, has plans to construct additional school houses for the roughly 2,000 camp children who aren’t intending school but should be; the fall term got underway in Sudan this week.
While work to improve sanitation and health care continues, the camp dwellers are ready for programs that look deeper into the future. “They are stabilized in terms of security compared to their place of origin” Brandao said. “They know they are living under the eyes of the international community. They feel safer in the camps.”
Elsewhere in Darfur, IRC health and sanitation experts were pooling resources to track and halt a spike in infectious diseases, particularly Hepatitis E, in camps around the major South Darfur city of Nyala. At least one case of typhoid has also been discovered.