Building resilience in the villages of Darfur

Aisha Abdulla is a member of a Saving for Change group in Gemmeiza Arbaa. In the course of a year, she took out five loans and paid them back; she was able to purchase a donkey and cart. “Before, I had to carry everything on my head. Now I use the donkey cart. I also rent the donkey and cart out for more income. Now, my family has better nutrition. We get enough sorghum and other foods to eat.” Photo: Elizabeth Stevens/Oxfam

In war-torn Darfur, it is hard to make a living—and stay safe—in the countryside, but Oxfam partners are helping villagers rebuild their lives. 

There is no road sign to guide you to the Sudanese village of Gemmeiza Arbaa, but if you keep a sharp eye out, you can find a sandy track that’ll take you there. It winds through what was once a forest and is now open land dotted with bushes and small trees. In the dry season, everything here is gray-brown and dusty. And thorny. Every wild plant is bristling with thorns.

When you cross a wadi, or seasonal river, you begin to see signs of the settlement—someone drawing water for animals from a hand-dug well in the middle of the dry riverbed, donkeys resting under a baobab tree, and a little herd of goats browsing and drifting toward home.

Gemmeiza Arbaa is a farming village that was destroyed in the Darfur conflict in 2005. Survivors fled to a camp for displaced people about 19 miles away in the town of Nyala. Many years later, some began returning to the village just long enough to plant and harvest crops, but now about 1,000 families have decided to put down roots again here. 

They rebuilt their huts and compounds out of millet stalks, but that was only the beginning. They needed healthy crops and animals, and enough water for them all. They needed sources of income to supplement their harvests, and information about hygiene and nutrition to keep their families healthy. Rural life in Darfur is full of danger: village communities face threats from hostile groups that roam the countryside; medical and veterinary care is hard to access—and pay for; the unpredictable weather brought on by climate change can devastate the crops they depend on; and the sands drifting in from the desert—if not halted quickly—could make this land uninhabitable before long. So along with the basics, the Gemmeiza Arbaa community needed a concerted effort to reduce the risks.

Oxfam and our partners in Darfur have joined forces with Gemmeiza Arbaa and 49 other struggling villages with a multi-faceted resilience program aimed at helping communities tackle the host of challenges they face as they try to get back on their feet. 

Nutrition resilience officer Montaser Osman stands next to a well that the Gemmeiza Arbaa community rehabilitated as a cash-for-work project—part of Oxfam’s response to the El Niño emergency. Photo: Elizabeth Stevens/Oxfam
Yousif Yagoub, the supervisor of the disaster risk reduction (DRR) committee in Gemmeiza Arbaa, displays peanut seed from the community’s seed bank, which is piled high with bags of millet, peanuts, and fodder. “We have created a seed bank to benefit the poorest families,” he says. The DRR committee has also planted trees to reduce deforestation, helped families get medical insurance, trained women--who cook over open fires and live in homes built of millet stalks—in fire safety, issued warnings about likely crop failures, and ensured that infectious diseases are reported quickly. “We are helping community members to stay in the village.” Photo: Elizabeth Stevens/Oxfam
Gemmeiza Arbaa community animal health worker Abdulla Adam treats a donkey for parasites.  Oxfam and JMCO—the Jebel Marra Charitable Organization—have supported training for community paravets; we also provided fodder at a critical moment of the year in 2016. The paravets can treat parasites and wounds and other potentially fatal conditions. “There used to be bodies of dead livestock on the land around the village,” says Abdulla. “They’re not there anymore.” Photo: Elizabeth Stevens/Oxfam
Hawaya Adam and her son with their goats. With a loan from her savings group, Hawaya bought a goat that has given birth to twins. “I have more income, but the biggest benefit is that my children are able to drink the milk.” Photo: Elizabeth Stevens/Oxfam
Two boys in a North Darfur village. Traditional diets in Darfur depend heavily on porridge made of sorghum or millet.  The resilience program includes training for mothers in hygiene and nutrition. Participants have learned about how good hygiene habits can prevent diarrhea, and about the importance of diversity in their diets. Now, they are growing kitchen gardens so their families have nutritious fruits and vegetables to eat, and they have formed hygiene and nutrition groups to share what they’ve learned. Many report seeing improvements in the health of their children. Photo: Elizabeth Stevens/Oxfam
Asha Abdella is a community trainer in the program on hygiene and nutrition in Gemmeiza Arbaa. She learned the importance of washing dishes carefully, and now her kitchen area is spotlessly clean—a challenge for anyone cooking over a wood fire every day. Photo: Elizabeth Stevens/Oxfam
El Nino struck hard in Darfur in 2015, so in 2016 Oxfam added cash-for-work projects for villagers who were struggling to make ends meet. In Gemmeiza Arbaa, the projects included constructing buildings to house agricultural extension and veterinary work. Photo: Elizabeth Stevens/Oxfam
Donkeys rest under an ancient baobab tree. Baobab wood doesn’t burn well, so the trees remain standing even in areas that have suffered severe deforestation.  Photo: Elizabeth Stevens/Oxfam
Nusaiba Edriss (right) from JMCO joins the women of Gemmeiza Arbaa for singing and dancing. In Darfur and around the world, local humanitarian organizations have strong bonds with the communities where they work and can be highly effective in emergencies. Oxfam is investing in the skills and leadership of groups like JMCO. Photo: Elizabeth Stevens/Oxfam

Oxfam is dedicated to creating lasting solutions to poverty, as well as responding to emergencies. Right now, millions of people are on the brink of starvation. Meet a few of the individuals working hard to overcome hunger, and find out how you can help.

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