By Jason Dueck
Feb. 19, 2020 With a series of quick, practiced strokes, Aïchatou Hamidou clears the area around a newly built latrine with a long broom made from dry grass. After the trash and waste are swept into a tidy pile and safely disposed of, she unties the brightly patterned red handkerchief over her nose and mouth and adjusts the unmissable royal blue smock designating her as a member of the WASH (water, sanitation and hygiene) team.
Hamidou is the leader of the WASH team in Kobiteye ‒ a refugee camp of more than 6,000 in Chad near the border of Central African Republic (CAR). She’s one of 24,000 refugees who are living in Kobiteye as well as two other government-built camps and a few dozen small villages in the area near the city of Goré.
A campaign of deadly attacks on nonnative Central Africans living in CAR ‒ like Hamidou, whose parents were Chadian — caused thousands to flee into nearby countries where they have no family or support.
These three camps are the site of one of MCC’s planned centennial projects ‒ a partnership with Secours Catholique et Développement (SECADEV; Catholic Relief Services) that provides WASH support, namely, making sure everyone living here has access to safe, clean water.
When the camps were first built in 2013, builders dug open-pit wells, which can easily become breeding grounds for unsafe bacteria and disease, especially when there are not enough latrines to properly support the population. MCC and SECADEV have begun work with leaders in these camps to install new sealed handpumps that draw water that isn’t polluted by waste from much deeper underground.
But contamination isn’t the only concern with the water supply in Kobiteye. Although the new pumps are a significant improvement, there simply aren’t enough pumps to draw water for everyone in the camp. The WASH team found that residents of the camp have access to 17 percent less water on average than the United Nations minimum standard for refugees in emergency situations.
In the sweltering heat, a lack of safe water often leads to arguments around the wells, says Hamidou. It’s not just the lack of water, but the feeling of hopelessness many refugees here live with. There are very few opportunities to earn any income, and nearly all other international relief has dried up.
Nevertheless, the wells that have been built have made a difference. “SECADEV brought real change to our community,” says Hamidou. “They came and taught us how to deal with conflict better, so there’s much less quarrelling at the wells now. And more latrines and pumps mean people are living with better water and more hygiene.”
MCC is already working in Kobiteye and the other camps, Danamadja and Djako, but thousands of refugees in surrounding villages are still in dire need of WASH support.
In recognition of its century-old roots of helping displaced people, MCC wants to expand on this work and reach more people. With increased support, SECADEV will be able to expand its work to the refugees who don’t live within the camps.
This is one example of how your gifts to the New Hope in the Name of Christ centennial fundraising campaign will meet urgent needs and support special projects for people on the move. You can donate to New Hope at mcc.org/new-hope.
Mennonite Central Committee: Relief, development and peace in the name of Christ
Jason Dueck is a writer for MCC Canada and lives in Winnipeg.