Friday, May 20, 2011

Guest Voices: Empowering Communities to Rebuild Their Lives in Chad

For our next installment, in our series guest posts from Concern Worldwide, we read an eyewitness account on the state of poverty in Chad. Overseas Director Paul O'Brien tells why women are in great need of jobs to earn money.

I arrived in Chad last week to meet with our country team, and to assess our programs and the ongoing humanitarian needs in our program areas. Chad is one of the world’s seven least developed countries: it ranks at 163 out of 169 countries in the 20

10 United Nations Human Development Index. The goal of our programs here is to target the poorest communities in the poorest parts of Chad—and I was curious to see how successfully we were doing that.

Capital cities in Africa can be extremely deceptive. Lush boulevards and well-paved roads from the airport to the capital city often mask the ugly truth that just steps away from these roads, people are living in abject poverty. Upon arrival in N’Djamena, Chad’s capital, the city is at first impressive. The promising hum of the city’s generators drowns out the sound of the car’s engine on my journey to the city center—a welcome sign of progress. However, I soon discover there is no running water where I am staying, despite the presence of a generator. In fact, most of the city has no electricity, which is a telling sign of the shortage of basic resources, even here in the capital.

Concern works in two regions in Chad: Goré in the south, which borders the Central African Republic (CAR), and Goz Beida in the east, which borders the Darfur region of Sudan. Both of these areas host refugees from their neighbouring countries, and both are challenging environments in which to live or work. Water is scarce, and the logistics of transporting relief items is difficult because roads and infrastructure are in poor condition.

As I leave the city to begin the 600-kilometer journey to Goré, I witness the unmistakeable signs of poverty in roadside dwellings. People live in small mud huts with no windows, electricity or running water. Most of these dwellings have no latrines, and all cooking is done on an open fire. The luxury of a grinding mill is beyond reach. Women pound grain with heavy pieces of timber—the way they have been doing it for centuries.

The biggest challenge facing mothers in Chad is to feed their children and keep them healthy. The country has one of the highest rates of child deaths in the world. In the villages in which Concern is working in Goré, I interviewed members of a mothers’ self-help group. One mother tells me that she had nine children, but only four survived. Another, a widow, originally a mother of four, says just two of her children are alive today.

It is difficult not to be moved by their stories. I am dumbfounded by their resilience, but I am also ashamed that our world full of wealth and expertise in health and nutrition can continue to let such silent emergencies exist.

Concern is helping women in Goré earn an independent income for the first time and manage their resources, by providing training in producing shea butter for sale at market, and in other trades such as tailoring. The members of these collectives and livelihoods programs are making strong progress, and their confidence is growing. Development takes time, there are no quick-fix solutions, but we must do everything in our power to ensure that these women, their children and their families are not forgotten.

Concern Worldwide’s livelihoods program in Goré, Chad has trained 350 women in the processing of Shea butter and production of soap, food stuffs, and cosmetics. Concern works with refugees and host villages to help them become self-sufficient and improve their safety nets. An estimated 75,000 refugees from the Central African Republic have fled to southern Chad since 2003, while host villages also battle extreme poverty and isolation.

No comments: