A decade in Darfur: Mothers and children at risk

23 Apr 2013   |   Blog   |   Long-term Development   |   Sudan   |   Emergency Relief

Tags:  child health, maternal health, nutrition, ACT Alliance, Darfur   |   No comments

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.

One thing wasn’t confusing though: 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.”

A decade in the camps

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.

The challenges faced by mothers
Maiam Abdullah Adam, a mother who has received food assistance.

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.”

Helping mothers and children

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.

Sadia, a mother who brought her daughter to a nutrition centre.

Sadia, 35, brought her 4-year-old daughter Sayida to a nutrition centre weeks ago. “We tend to see more malnourished girls than boys—ratios of 60/40 or 70/30,” says an NCA nutritionist named Fatima. Staff weighed Sayida and circled her arm with a strip that goes from green to yellow to red, spanning the danger stages for malnutrition. “It was yellow,” says her mother. When children fall into this category, NCA gives them extra corn-soy blend provided by the World Food Programme. Because Sayida has seven brothers and sisters, staff follow up to make sure the food is reaching Sayida herself. “Now the strip is green,” says her mother, smiling. “Now she is happy. Thank you so much.”

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.”

Providing for the vulnerable

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.

I felt there was hope for my daughter. There was food here. It was a good feeling"
Nawal, a mother in one of the camps

“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.”

Learn more about the ACT-Caritas Alliance program in the Darfur region of Sudan

See photos from Darfur

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