A child at Oure Cassoni Refugee Camp in Chad
An absorbing diary entry from an SOS co-worker:
Oure Cassoni is a refugee camp near to the border of Sudan- in neighbouring Chad. It is home to nearly 30,000 refugees, displaced due to the troubles in Darfur. This piece is a diary-style article by a Dutch photographer, Benno Neeleman, who travels the world on behalf of SOS Childrens Villages. It shares some of his reflections on his time spent in and around the area of Oure Cassoni:
We have landed on a narrow strip of sand in the middle of an endless desert. We stay in the guest house of the UN World Food Programme - hotels are scarce here.
At 8:30 a.m. a convoy of eleven vehicles from various relief organisations leaves the UNHCR office for the refugee camp in Oure Cassoni. After half an hour, all of a sudden a piece of land covering numerous hectares rises out of the emptiness, showing a great number of mud huts and plastic buildings accommodating almost 30,000 people. The majority of them settled down here in 2004, after the situation in the Sudanese province of Darfur had made it impossible for them to continue living there. Before, this piece of land had been a big, open desert, without a single tree and sometimes with temperatures of more than 50 degrees Celsius. The only reason the United Nations built the refugee camp on this spot in particular was its water supplies.
SOS Children's Villages was asked to start a project to deal with potential mental problems in children. And there are many such problems here! The story of twelve-year old Housna is not an exception. Until 2004 she lived in a peaceful little village which was suddenly attacked one day by rebels on horses and she was fired at from above. Many inhabitants were killed while others fled the village in panic. So did Housna's father. Since that day she hasn't heard anything from him.
Only a small number of the inhabitants of this usually quiet little village managed to flee. Housna, her mother, her grandmother and her four brothers and sisters arrived at the camp in a wretched state. On the day of their arrival Housna's mother, who was seriously ill, died. Housna does not want to talk about the past; she only does so once per week with the psychologist provided by SOS Children's Villages. This takes a great deal of effort and, most of all, many, many tears. I meet Housna in a small class room, together with 40 other school children. The teacher is full of praise for her: She likes mathematics in particular! When she grows up she wants to become a doctor in order to help sick people!
The SOS Children's Village project is extremely important for children like Housna. Meanwhile 400 children are being cared for, 200 of them have been orphaned on their flight from Darfur. In the tent next door Silvie, a psychologist, talks to a girl who is no older than sixteen. She wants to get the girl to talk about the experiences she had four years ago. The child starts to cry. "They must continue to talk about it", says Silvie. "It is the only chance for the children to overcome these experiences and to learn how to live with them! Yet they will never forget them!"
The next day is the Universal Children's Day. Outdoor games, competitions, hang gliding and a drawing competition are organised for the older children. The winning picture, drawn by a child aged about twelve, depicts a burning village, an airplane above it, rebels firing their guns, tanks and people fleeing! "It is extremely important for the children that we are working here", says Abdelkerim Mahamat, the director of SOS Children's Villages Chad.