The Paramount Sheikh of Sakali Mohamed Lein gestures during the interview Photo © : UN-HABITAT / T. Osanjo.
From grace to grass is a line usually used to narrate how one has fallen from a higher place but for some internally displaced persons in Sudan’s Darfur region, theirs is a story of how they have literally moved from grass to grace, thanks to a project by UN-HABITAT to improve their dwellings. These are some of the most vulnerable victims of conflict anywhere in the world.
Having been displaced by one of Africa’s worst conflicts in recent years, the people living here know that when trouble comes, it really comes in hard. These are the residents of the Kalma IDP camp outside Nyala, the state capital of South Darfur.
Forced to flee for dear life once again and they set camp at Sakali still on the outskirts of Nyala. It was at this point that UN-HABITAT came into the scene and built six model houses for the IDPs.
The agency later entered into an agreement with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to better the living conditions in the camp and they are currently working on building 15 more houses.
Using the Stabilized Soil Block (SSB) technology, the two agencies embarked on a training programme teaching the residents how to make the cheaper blocks. The residents were then encouraged to communally participate in building houses for their fellow IDPs who had been fortunate enough to be chosen as the first beneficiaries of the project.
Also built was a block of classrooms for the local girls’ primary school. To cater for the health of the residents, a clinic has been built at the camp. The Paramount Sheikh of Sakali Mohamed Lein says that the project has seen his people move from their former grass and straw houses to new houses of grace.
“It is a move from grass to grace and we are really thankful because our people now live with some measure of dignity and this, I believe, is how human beings are supposed to live,” he says.
According to the Sheikh, after the training on SSB, nearly all the 866 households at Camp Sakali participated one way or the other in building the first six houses, an exercise he said contributed to better bonding for the residents.
“By working communally, I witnessed a strong bond being developed among my people and this to me was very encouraging,” he says. To him, the education the young people received in SSB making was of utmost importance.
In addition to the girls’ school, Sheikh Lein appeals for more classrooms to be built so that as many young people as possible can be able to go to school. Talking to other parents at the camp, what comes out is that the need to offer one’s children better opportunities in life seems to be an inborn human trait. Be it in Paris, Rome, Bogota or Saakali, most parents want their offspring to have a better start in life that they (parents) themselves had.
Take the case of another beneficiary at the camp, Ms Mariam Ibrahim. The widowed mother of 10 says her biggest dream is for her children to finish school so they can better their own lives. And the house she got at the project is a good launching pad for her children’s education, she says.
“This house has more rooms and the children can concentrate more in their studies. I am praying that they may excel because education is crucial in this modern world,” the 55 year old says.
Similar sentiments are expressed by yet another beneficiary Khalifa Mohammed. The blind father of six doesn’t want his children to go through life relying on well wishers as he himself has done. “Having become blind soon after my primary education there was nothing much I could do and when this opportunity to get a house came I could only be grateful. Now my biggest worry is to see my children through school.
Both Mariam and Khalifa expressed the hope that a well wisher would help them establish some small scale business to see them manage sustainable livelihood. “A business of my own would make me self reliant and I am sure my life and that of my family would improve for the better,” says a confident Khalifa behind his dark sunglasses.
Note Mr. Tom Osanjo of UN-HABITAT’s Information Services Section visited South Sudan early in December – a place where 27 international aid workers and peacekeepers have been kidnapped since March 2009. Four are still being held captive according to the UNOCHA. He returned with this first-hand account of UN-HABITAT’s work in the field. It is the third in a series of special reports being published on these web pages.