The Institutional Stove Project of Aprovecho Research Center is moving rapidly to fill the need for institutional size stoves in the developing world. This blog is devoted to charting our events and progress.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Last Blog From Darfur

Last week we finished training150 cooks and program implementers  in school feeding programs at IDP (internally displaced persons) camps close to Nyala – Wednesday in Otash, Thursday in Deriege. That’s a total of 350 trained in North and South Darfur, and all will be helping get our stoves in service in 200 school sites. These two camps are representative of the 60 or so camps across Darfur that house about two million people - a third of the total population. Photography is generally prohibited, so I have taken some photos from Google Images to approximate what I’ve seen.  I have been allowed to photograph our work – as long as I “keep the focus very, very narrow” - so some images are mine.

Thursday’s was the most extensive camp tour – as our driver got lost and we spent quite a while squeezing our little convoy down narrow alleyways just scraping the sides of our vehicles. There is a bleak uniform sameness to the desperate living conditions in the camps.

                                        Standard camp housing. (from Google Images)
A few times we stopped the vehicles and I got out, and was immediately surrounded by kids. At one point I was face to face with about ten boys who looked to be five to nine years old – and as they gestured at me I realized they were all stone deaf. They were in bad shape, clearly not in school, dressed in pretty tattered clothes, and showing a lot of other ancillary birth defects.  Uncertain what to do I stuck out my hand, and these little guys all grinned at me and, one at a time, came up for a handshake. All the while they were chattering away in a sign language clearly of their own invention. I pointed to my hearing aids and gestured that I knew what it’s like. But I really didn’t. Not a clue. I just found myself filled with a deep sorrow over my helplessness, and the realization that these were just ten kids out of about 100,000 intensely poor and totally displaced people in these two camps.

Overall, this is a really complex culture, many of the displaced are highly educated, and literacy rates here are quite high by African standards. The people of Darfur have been uprooted from what looked like a normal society just a decade ago- before the horror of war. I have been struggling to understand the root causes of the conflict, and the recent history of Darfur, and must say I still have only a tiny understanding of what has happened and what is going on today. The politics are enormously complicated, and confusion and lack of clear leadership among various (forty or so) insurgent groups makes the current reality very hard to understand. The basic problems in Darfur have to do with competition for scarce resources, and those problems are a long ways from being resolved. In the meantime it is the mission of the various UN agencies on the ground here to provide immediate relief for the displaced, to encourage alternatives to resource gathering (firewood) as the main employment, and to provide peacekeeping forces to extend the uneasy truce of the moment.

                                       Another camp neighborhood (from Google Images)

What have been really wonderful are the associations with the people. I’ve been treated with great kindness and respect everywhere I’ve gone in Darfur. One of my classes was introduced by a minister of education – who told the cooks; “I want you to pay close attention to Mr. Fred, because I don’t want to have to tell your kids that you weren’t good students”. While everybody in the field is Muslim, nobody’s batted an eye at this funny-looking old white guy, and everybody tries out whatever English they’ve got on me. Greetings- “salaam” are usually accompanied by a gesture of the right hand over the heart and a very subtle bow of the head.
In the schools where we train the cooks there is a great crush of kids everywhere. These are large schools – I would guess on average 1500 students. When on break, the kids are right there – though many of the girls are shy. The boys all want to shake hands and many say “hello” or “how are you”.

To go to school in the camps, the parents must make a contribution. Either firewood (a stick a day) or equivalent time volunteered with the PTA is what it takes from the parents for kids to get to school. Many, many kids in the camps don’t go.
The kids who do go to school, however, are bright and shiny in clean uniforms and they are much, much healthier-looking than kids who don’t attend. WFP packs extra nutrition into school feeding program diets. All the kids get a meal that includes a super-fortified mix of wheat, vitamins, and essential minerals made into a kind of soup. The results are spectacular.

                                              Kids at Otash school (my photo)

We are so blessed to have this good work to do, and Darfur feels like we’ve hit the mark in our stated objective to bring our technologies to the “poorest of the poor”. Our project couldn’t be happening without a great team effort – Lise, Damon, Dennis, Jordan, Francesco and Frank, - and our terrific crew in the shop – Dave, J.D., Cory, Norm, and Tristan. Grateful thanks to all of you.


No comments:

Post a Comment