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In Darfur, to care for the animals is to care for the community

By Elizabeth Stevens
Paravet Haneen Mohammed examines a donkey. “In the past, when animals got sick, they would be sold or slaughtered. Now, I am better able to diagnose and treat them.” Photo: Elizabeth Stevens / Oxfam America

In the harsh environment of rural Darfur, making a living from the land depends on livestock. Oxfam is helping families keep their animals healthy.

In the villages of Darfur, Sudan, animals are a gentle and engaging presence. Goats are everywhere, nosing around for something green to eat and then prancing off, stiff-legged, to rejoin their herds. Donkeys, whose tiny chests and mournful faces belie their power, haul giant loads of fodder and everything else that needs to get from one place to another. And now and then a camel makes its stately way across the landscape, a farmer on its back, or draped with produce.

Most of the residents in rural towns here are farmers, but they have no trucks or tractors—barely anything to save them labor except the animals they use to pull their plows and carts. And if a family wants milk or meat, they must raise the livestock they plan to take it from.

Ask a farmer if she ever rests, and she will laugh. Between caring for her family and her crops, she labors from dawn to dark, and beyond. But despite her efforts, she and her family may struggle to survive from one harvest to the next. With peace, good health, and enough rain to grow their crops, they can make it, with cash enough to spare for children’s school fees. But their lives are shadowed by poverty and climate change, and—most frightening of all—armed conflict: they live in the knowledge that at any moment they may have to grab their children and run, abandoning everything.

No surprise, then, that veterinary care for livestock here is a rarity. Animals are precious to their families: it can take years to save up enough money to buy a donkey. But there is little cash to spare for medical expenses, so when an animal suffers illness or injury, the farmer may feel the only options are sale or slaughter.

Healthy animals, healthy people

The health of livestock has big implications for farmers. After an attack on a village, this camel ferried ten people to safety. Now he helps his owner make a living by hauling loads like these tomato vines. Photo: Elizabeth Stevens / Oxfam America

Oxfam and a local partner are setting out to put a better alternative within reach. In 50 villages in Darfur –settlements that have been affected by the armed conflict but haven’t been the targets of direct attacks—we are providing animal health workers (paravets) with tools, drugs, and training to boost their knowledge and skills. The paravets in the program were chosen by their own communities to participate, and to ensure that their services remain affordable, the communities themselves have set their fees.

In a town near El Fasher, North Darfur, paravet Haneen Mohammed was elected to serve. He has been an animal health worker since 2005, and now has another job working for an Oxfam partner, but he wants to do more to help struggling local farmers. He recently received a five-day training to update his veterinary skills and knowledge, and a donkey to help him get from settlement to settlement.  Now, he has supplies of medicines and  a new set of tools, including syringes, forceps, scalpels, and a thermometer; soon, he’ll be provided with vaccines to protect animals from fatal diseases that plague this region, like black quarter and hemorrhagic septicemia.

Mohammed also learned about the ways livestock illness can directly affect farmers and their families. “Animal health is closely related to the health of the people,” he says. Farmers in rural areas live in close quarters with their goats and donkeys and other animals, which puts them at risk of contracting illnesseslike brucellosis and rabies. Mohammed sees it as part of his job to raise awareness about how families can protect themselves. Oxfam introduced his community to the idea of separating animal and human water sources, which he sees as an important precaution.

Mohammed admires the strength of horses and the adaptability of goats, but his veterinary work isn’t really for their sakes: caring for animals is his way of caring for his community. “All the farm animals,” he says, “are friends to the people.”  And so is he.


The conflict in Darfur has endangered not only lives but also the means to make a living. Help Oxfam support communities in need.

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