Ten years ago, ACT Alliance and Caritas teamed up in Darfur to provide life-saving essentials, health care and education to hundreds of thousands of civilians fleeing violence. In the intervening years, the Norwegian Church Aid programme has not only continued helping hundreds of thousands to survive but also to improve their long-term quality of life, by promoting sustainable income-generation activities, as well as peace committees to heal strained relationships.
In 2003, when violence engulfed the Darfur region of western Sudan, millions of people fled their homes seeking safety. Families arrived at camps for displaced people with the clothes on their backs and little else. They desperately needed food, water, medical care and shelter.
As the catastrophic situation in Darfur gained media traction, world attention shifted to the troubled region. With funding from ACT Alliance and Caritas, a unique Catholic-Protestant programme got underway, translating into support for hundreds of thousands of Darfuris.
The programme developed quickly. Norwegian Church Aid (NCA) led field assessments were undertaken in December 2003. By mid-2004, with the help of millions of dollars donated by ACT-Caritas, the programme’s humanitarian work was underway.
By the end of 2005, the programme had built and was running more than 20 clinics and 15 centres to feed malnourished children.
It constructed 15 permanent and 23 temporary schools, drilled 103 boreholes, dug 3,000 pit latrines and distributed seeds and farming tools to 12,500 families. It also provided emergency shelter materials like plastic sheeting to 4,000 families and gave items like cookware to more than 62,000 families.
From sustenance and health care to education and cooperation
Supported by ACT-Caritas, the NCA Darfur programme consistently has continued to help suffering people in the camps as the years passed.
It has dug wells, laid pipeline and provided pumps so that thousands of people could have a reliable source of water inside the camps.
It also trained camp residents to fix pipes and made water provision more sustainable.
Many of its water systems, once hand pumps, are now motorised or solar-powered. As of 2012, over 300,000 people in several camps have clean water thanks to the programme.
NCA provides essentials like water containers, cookware and mosquito nets to camp residents who cannot afford them. When floods or fires strike, families receive items like plastic sheeting to replace the destroyed roof of their homes. Since 2004, NCA has given emergency supplies to more than 220,000 families.
Conditions in the camps can be harsh, and illness is ever present. Clinics funded by ACT-Caritas have saved thousands of lives over the past decade. Medical staff is trained to vaccinate children, deliver babies, treat wounds and fight disease. Other projects raise awareness about HIV/AIDS. In 2012 alone, over 200,000 camp residents benefitted from ACT-Caritas health care programmes.
Malnourished children are most vulnerable to death or sickness in their earliest years. To combat malnutrition, staff at NCA nutritional centres weigh and measure children. Those who are underweight receive extra rations provided by the World Food Programme.
Vulnerable adults, such as the blind or disabled, also receive extra food. Each year, thousands of children have been saved from hunger and disease.
To give those children a future, ACT-Caritas funds were used to construct and rehabilitate schools, provide training for teachers, and give educational materials to students.
Since the schools programme began in 2004, it has been responsible for constructing 59 schools in Darfur. More than 16,000 people benefitted from those schools in 2012.
Another key to the future is peace. To heal relationships, ACT-Caritas supports peace committees, exchange visits between communities experiencing tension, and conflict resolution training – for example, regarding land use.
ACT-Caritas partners have provided free veterinary services, vocational training in skills like welding, and income-generation activities to groups whose relationships with others are strained. The programme reaches out to camp residents, host communities and nomads to try to include all groups.
Empowering people to build their own future
By 2010, the programme began to transition towards enabling vulnerable people to acquire new skills to support themselves in a sustainable way.
By helping needy people start small, profitable businesses – like co-op bakeries – ACT-Caritas partners helped make families more independent.
NCA has distributed items like sewing machines and grain-grinders, training camp residents to earn a living.
Working in Darfur involves many challenges. Despite these, the ACT-Caritas programme remains one of the largest in Darfur, providing assistance to almost half a million people on a budget of US$9.4 million for 2013.
While the plight of Darfur has become less visible in the media, humanitarian needs remain enormous.
With the goal of relieving human suffering, the NCA Darfur programme continues its lifesaving activities while making sustainable economic independence possible.
After a decade, ACT Alliance and Caritas remain committed to aiding the people of Darfur.
Read the ACT Alliance Appeal for assistance to internally displaced Darfuris here.