KOUKOU ANGARANA, CHAD, 5 November 2008 - Zeinaba Adam, the mother of five children and a resident of the Aradib displacement camp in eastern Chad, is no stranger to guilt.
In the midst of a raid on her village in eastern Chad in March 2007, by those she describes as the Janjaweed, she was shot five times and survived - believing a headscarf she wore acted as a kind of talisman of protection. But it did not offer her full defense from the terrors of violence and trauma. Adam asked her husband, Hassein Bourma, to retrieve a mattress for her. In his return to the couple's besieged village, Bourma was killed. Adam, 26, still feels responsible for her husband's death.
Yet in the course of trauma counseling offered by ACT member, the Lutheran World Federation (LWF), Bourma has been slowly able to recover from her trauma and guilt. It has not been an easy process - she still has repeated memories of the incident, though counseling has helped her deal with guilt. "Life is not over," she said. "There is life." So much so that earlier this year she announced to a group of visitors that she had been become engaged. She credits Hawa Dehero Kayo, a Chadian psycho-social worker, or "animator," as helping her. "Hawa has been a very good friend," Bourma said.
Adam is one of dozens in the camp who have benefited from the ACT response, which Esther Isaac, coordinator of the psychosocial program, said is based on a simple premise: "If people have a problem and it's not dealt with, it ends up being another pathology" in which acts of violence can be perpetuated for those living in displacement camps in eastern Chad. LWF is the lead coordinator overseeing the Aradib and Habile camps, located near the town of Koukou Angarana. Between them, the two camps have between them a combined population of about 45,000 residents.
To Isaac, the only way to put an end to pathologies rooted in violence is to start building communities that reject violence. That is done by empowering individuals and communities that have experienced trauma and have lost an individual or collective sense of dignity. It is not easy work, including the fact that women, in particular, are not likely to come forward and reveal hidden experiences - such as rape, which Isaac firmly believes is used as an "act of war" in eastern Chad and neighboring Darfur. "Women tend to hide in the shadows," she said.
There are five pillars in the psycho-social response:
- The training of social workers in community based psychosocial approach and services;
- Formation of therapeutic self help groups;
- Identification of available resources within the community;
- Identifying vulnerable groups and assessing means to attend to them;
- Setting up a safe place - a sort of "protective haven" - for those needing protection against violence, including family violence.
Psychosocial programs address issues of "mind, soul and body" both individually and in the social setting. "You have to react with the community. It's a community issue," Isaac said. "But it takes time, it takes time."
One example: the case of Mohammad Abaker, 45, a merchant whose eastern Chadian village, D'Jadide, was attacked by the Janjaweed in August 2006. The attack left 45 villagers and numerous women raped. In the ensuing chaos, Abaker refused to give up his horse to a group of perpetrators. They hit him repeatedly with an iron pipe and shot him in the face with a Kalishnikov rifle, blinding him in one eye. Abaker was tied up, stabbed and left to die. Eventually Abaker was found and hospitalised. Like Adam, Abaker attributes a divine hand at work in his survival " was God, Allah." Still, Abaker contemplates exacting vengeance for what happened to him. At one point during his recovery, Abaker saw one of the men who shot him at a market, and wanted him dead. The humanitarian worker counseling him said: "This is not the solution. Killing the man will not bring your eye back. If you kill this man, it will be another problem for you."
The young psychosocial counselor who has helped Abaker is Neldjagaye Modjingar, 28, sometimes called Oliver by his colleagues. A Christian from Chad's south, he has himself experienced something of the hard side of life, including the political persecution of his family in the 1980s. That experience, Modjingar believes, has given him a sense of empathy for those he serves. Oliver is keenly aware of how easily differences between Muslims and Christians can be exploited and manipulated.
In the end, Modjingar believes, those working and those being assisted need "to find solutions together." He also finds that for those recovering from trauma, God has not abandoned them. "God," he said, "is always with them."
Chris Herlinger, a writer with ACT member Church World Service, was recently on assignment in eastern Chad for ACT with United Methodist photographer Paul Jeffrey. This is the second of a series of stories on the response in eastern Chad accompanied by Jeffrey's photographs.
Action by Churches Together (ACT) International is a global alliance of churches and related agencies working to save lives and support communities in emergencies worldwide.