Ache is a strongly built woman. The skin around her eyes is smooth in spite of the graying braids that lie half hidden under her head covering. Her face wears a look built out of determination and survival and years of waiting. She has been in this camp in eastern Chad since 2004. She knows she may never go home.
In Sudan, she tells us, she lived in a large and prosperous village. She had a beautiful life: fields of millet, sorghum and peanuts along the wadi, gardens rich in choice, and an irrigation pump to lighten her work. Her three children were free to go to school, and together the community built a preschool so mothers could have time to rest and socialize.
Her house was made of adobe, with a metal roof: safe from fire, a good place to store her dowry chest and gold jewelry. She would travel to weekly markets in nearby towns, selling grain or vegetables and bringing home clothes, shoes and school supplies. Her husband traveled to the big cities and returned bearing sacks of sugar. In Sudan, Ache was free.
And then, everything changed. Ache’s face goes still and hard as she thinks about the hate campaign that started the troubles.
“The janjaweed came to our village with guns and fire. They stole our cattle, slaughtered our donkeys and burned our fields. As they broke down our granaries and houses we ran for our lives, scattering into the bush, I in one direction and my husband in another,” she said. “So many of our neighbors and our family members didn’t escape. Men and women, elderly and babies; their bodies lay untended, unburied for days. When the janjaweed finally left we buried the dead in pits and mass graves. I had only my clothes and my children. I had only the hope of reaching some other village before we were lost to hunger and thirst.”
Eventually, trucks came from the NGOs. They rounded up batches of refugees and drove them several days to the camp. Bewildered and traumatized, Ache’s family waited under plastic tarps. “But there were no guns. There was peace, and a place to rest,” she recalls.
When they first arrived in the camp they were lent a small plot to farm, but without access to water it failed. Now her husband spends most days looking for day labor in town. Sometimes he is lucky. Sometimes they resort to selling part of their daily ration. Her 16-year-old son has left the camp to look for work somewhere unknown—probably back in Sudan, although at last news he was still in eastern Chad. One day she will find him, if she can get the money to travel after him.
She focuses on the blessings in the camp: her daughter spreading sorghum from the distribution rations to dry in the sun; the gate into her neighbor’s yard and the gourd plant that reaches over it. She wonders whether she will ever again have the chance to plant and reap her own fields.
“What I wish for,” she says with a trembling voice, “Is a chance to work. Last year, when World Concern was here, I worked on the rock lines. I had money to buy a pot and meat to share with my neighbor. We are not the same tribe, but we live together. We shared out my work days and the money.”
“Thank you,” she says, “for coming so far, for leaving your families and coming to help mine. Surely God will bless your generosity.”
Story by J. Gunningham, World Concern Program Support Officer, Djabal, Chad