Solidarity and sharing: How Chadians cope in a food crisis

By Oxfam
Khadidja Idriss receives food for her family from a distribution organized by Oxfam and the World Food Programme. Photo by Abbie Trayer-Smith

In the Guéra region of Chad, one of the countries in West Africa where a food crisis is affecting more than 18 million people,  Oxfam is now distributing staples provided by the World Food Programme to more than 61,300 people a month. Among the provisions are corn, beans, oil, and salt.

On distribution day in the village of Louga, women and children sat patiently, waiting for their names to be called as workers carefully measured each family’s allotment. Here, every grain is precious. Though Oxfam has selected the most vulnerable villagers to receive the food—widows, divorcees, and people caring for orphans—in reality the sorely needed calories will be shared widely among many. It’s one of the survival strategies common in Louga, where the homes sit close together along dusty paths and the temperature soars to 104 degrees.

“Solidarity here in this community is very strong,” says Khadidja Idriss, a mother of six children. She shared with 10 other families some of the food she received on distribution day, which included 75 pounds of corn, 9 to 11 pounds of beans, a little more than two quarts of oil, and close to a pound of salt.

“My neighbors have virtually nothing either, but they will even feed my children if I’m out. We help each other, regardless of how little we have,” Idriss says. “This is how we survive.”

Before the distribution, Idriss , who suffers from increasing pain in her legs, had been struggling to find enough food for her family. Meals consisted of corn flour mixed with water, and a sauce made from leaves gathered by her children.

“The children often don’t manage to sleep and they cry because they are hungry,” said Idriss. “Sometimes I have no words of comfort for my children. I boil water with a bit of salt for them to drink, which will fill them up.”

But there is no comfort like food, and when Idriss learned that her family had been selected for the distribution, she could hardly wait to convey the news.

“I told my children straight away and they were so happy and joyful and haven’t talked about anything else since,” she said.

The day before the distribution,  a neighborhood child, propped near the doorway of Adoaga Ousmane’s home, chewed on a pit from a piece of fruit . The fruit was long gone, but the chewing helped stave off hunger. For Ousmane, caring for a house full of children and grandchildren, hunger has been no stranger. Her family, too, was among those selected to receive the monthly rations. And like Idriss, her share went far beyond her own threshold.

“I shared the food I received with three other families,” said Ousmane. “I can’t eat my food while other people go hungry. We always share if we can. There is a strong feeling of solidarity in the village. I have to help others who are in need as they would help me if I asked.”