Like Doublemint Gum, Except Bad

It is too common for children to see child labor in Chad. The country has an overall literacy rate of 26%.

You know the old commercials for Doublemint gum? Two unusually beautiful twin sisters or brothers pop out from behind a cabana, or do a spread-eagle on a ski slope, grinning with their white teeth and minty fresh breath? Double your pleasure, double your fun? I had a realization like that today, except less minty.

So I’m in Chad right now. Some have called it the “Dead Heart of Africa.” Don’t read into it, other than it’s in the middle of Africa. I’m in Ndjamena, the capitol, and will catch a UN flight in the morning to World Concern’s project area in refugee camps on the far eastern part of the country, near Sudan. That’s where the Darfur war has been going on.

I’ve been researching some basic data on the country to prepare for this trip, and I found:

  • One in 10 children die before the age of five here.
  • 62% of people are in extreme poverty, making less than $1.25 a day
  • Only one in four people can read and write

Pretty mind-boggling stuff, right? And then I realized that where we’re working, these figures are generous.

Jane Gunningham, who helped start our humanitarian relief work in eastern Chad, tells me illiteracy there is more than double the country average. She said:

“Literacy in the eastern zone is about 10%. Virtually no women are literate in the east.”

And as for incomes, also worse than the country average. But perhaps the most startling, is that instead of one in 10 children dying before the age of five, it’s one in five kids. Double the number of child deaths.

Really? I wish it was not true. It’s tough enough here. It’s no wonder, though. Introduce a war that impacts families already living on the edge, sending 400,000 refugees or displaced people to camp within Chad, and it should be no surprise these figures are far worse.

There is a ray of hope, though, as I prepare to fly out in the morning to see the camps. Jane says the work we’re doing, is making a real and noticeable difference. Whether it is help with farming, with temporary employment doing community service, or it is in small savings and loan groups – these small interventions bring big results.

“The whole economy across the board is struggling to get by,” Jane told me. “It takes only a small input to increase a family’s survivability.”

I’m looking forward to seeing first-hand how this is working.

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