A sea of little faces looked up at me offering my Nikon camera a “Kodak” moment. One little shy face of a small boy dressed in his long white jalabea, now no longer sparking white, attracted my attention. I went down on my haunches in front of him and in my broken Arabic, asked his name and whether I could take his photo. His name was Hamid and the coy smile was consent for me to photograph him. I noticed that he had his little toy truck with him. At first gaze it looked like a pile of scrap metal. Then I took careful aim with my camera and noticed more detail. It was made from empty tomato cans rescued from a garbage pit somewhere. I could make out the front windscreen. Then my focus was brought to the wheels. They were blue in color and were obviously cut from an old pair of rubber thongs or “slip-slops” as we called them in South Africa. The wheels were far from round and I wondered how he could even get them to roll. I smiled at Hamid and asked him whether his truck was a Mercedes Benz or a Mitsubishi. His immediate answer was, “Mitsubishi”.
Hamid’s family had just arrived in Kosti in northern Sudan. They had fled from South Sudan where for over 70 years his family had lived peacefully grazing a few sheep and goats and each year growing sorghum grain, their staple diet. When given the choice to split Sudan into two, the South Sudan people voted 99% in favor of separation. Emotions ran high and all “northerners” in the South were forcefully “encouraged” to leave without their livestock, tools, and farm implements. Fearing for their lives they trekked hundreds of kilometers north to where they could settle in peace and security.
The greatest challenge these people faced was that of a place to stay out of the heavy seasonal rains and the extremely hot sun that often stays for months around 113F. Traditionally they build houses of mud blocks mixed with straw and baked in the sun. The roof is made of poles with bamboo strips laid over them with reeds spread across to keep the home cool. Then comes a sheet of woven plastic and on top of that a layer of mud that hardens to keep the rain water from drenching them. Having left their homes and all their possessions in their flight from the violence that threatened them, they desperately needed help to get settled again.
ADRA was one of several INGOs, UN Agencies and government authorities invited for a joint assessment of the needs of this community of over 2,000 families suddenly forced to migrate. ADRA was able to find a donor and soon truckloads of roofing materials – poles, bamboo, reeds, plastic sheets, and straw were being distributed to the families with the greatest challenges; elderly, single-headed families, disabled and the unemployed ultra poor. Many government authorities took note of what ADRA was doing. The Minister for Social Welfare visited the project and later to a group of Government, UN and International NGOs commented, “I saw with my own eyes ADRA distributing the most urgently needed materials to the destitute families who had just arrived. We need to follow their example.”
Hundreds of families now have a roof over their heads and are protected from the elements. Hamid’s family has access to tools now from the ADRA distribution where 6 families will share a block mold, spirit level, saw, spade, building trowel, hammer and wheel barrow. So far 851 families have moved into their own homes. They have solved the first challenge, secure housing. Other challenges face them. How do they put food on the table when work is so scarce? How do they educate their children when they are too poor to afford school clothes, books and the payment that is expected of them? Even more serious is how they can afford to build a school to educate their children?
On my drill press I cut out new round wooden wheels for Hamid’s Mitsubishi with my hole saw and glued them on to metal axles. I asked one of my staff to take them to him where he lives 341 km away in Kosti. They took a photo of him receiving the two sets of wheels and axles. He was so overjoyed he had a hard time expressing it. I also sent him a copy of the photo I took of him.
Perhaps the greatest joy is mine knowing that hundreds of families are sleeping safe at night and are now protected from rain, wind and burning sun. What of the other challenges the community faces such as education, water, livelihoods and health care? They have only conquered the first hurdle. Recently they told me that thanks to ADRA they are now working together as a community to face the next challenges. They want me to help them build a little school. The words I hear from them so often is, “Of all the agencies and NGOs that came to do an assessment here, it is only ADRA that came back to help us.” Will I be able to fulfill my promise to help them build a school next? Will Hamid get an opportunity to learn to read and write? Where will I find the $20,000 to build 8 classrooms?