Sudan + 1 more

Volunteering without borders, from Sudan to Chad

by Rosemarie North in Hadjer Hadid, eastern Chad

Until early 2004, Adam Mahamat Dahab, 51, was the president of the Darfur branch of the Sudanese Red Crescent Society.

One night at 4am in February 2004 his village of Terbeba was attacked and he fled west, along with his family and many other people from his village. For six months he lived on the border of Sudan and Chad with his three wives and nine children.

Then they were lucky enough to be transferred to the newly-opened Tréguine refugee camp, run by the Red Cross, and now home to 14,500 Sudanese refugees from the Darfur region of Sudan.

Since then, Adam's previous humanitarian commitment has re-emerged. "When I came here, people needed help. They still need help. That's why I am here. So I am working as I did before I came to Chad."

In Sudan Adam trained in first aid, learning how to prevent potentially deadly diseases such as polio, tuberculosis and measles.

"What I started in Sudan I am now continuing here," says Adam, who volunteers with the health service in Tréguine camp.

"Here we found the same health problems -- whooping cough, fever, persistent diseases. We need to find a solution to these things. We make sure people keep their homes clean, that the children wash. We look for children who might need help, and we take them to hospital."

"I am a volunteer here because we want to eradicate every disease that exists in the camp, both among the children and the adults."

Adam takes out his Chad Red Cross name badge and says he feels at home in the organization, even though he has switched from crescent to cross.

"I saw it was the same activities. The Red Cross and the Red Crescent are part of the same movement. They have the same objectives, the same job to do and the same tasks."

For Adam, representing his village of Terbeba is natural. He says his neighbours from Terbeba have found it hard to get used to life in the camp.

Fleeing quickly in the night meant no one could bring many possessions with them to make the transition easier. And people have few opportunities to earn money to buy things at the market in the nearby town, Hadjer Hadid, where people use Sudanese currency to trade.

Here in the camp, refugees are given the bare minimum to survive: 2,100 calories a person a day. Rations have to last 14 days in conditions of extreme heat, and with the threat of termites and other pests. So there is no fresh meat, fruit or vegetables. Some refugees take a portion of their rations to the market to sell, so they can buy fresh food or other essentials.

"We are worried because we don't eat the same things as before. There are people who don't eat well because they have sold their ration to buy things. The vision of all refugees is to eat more vegetables and meat."

Even in exile, Adam tries to help settle disputes among his people.

"In this camp there are lots of people from Terbeba, I don't know how many exactly. If there is a problem I try to calm people. We try to intervene and sort out the problems."

Eelko Brouwer, head of the International Federation's delegation in Chad, says people like Adam are inspiring: "The human resources of the Movement are the most importing thing to us and it's encouraging that people continue to believe in the principles despite the fact that they have fled because these principles have been violated."

"I think this sends a message to all the partners in the Movement -- that we should not stop at borders. We should co-ordinate our efforts in Sudan and Chad to facilitate the return of people like Adam," he adds.

Meanwhile, Adam still has work to do. One problem is especially bothering him: the flies that swarm over everyone and everything in the camp. Adam is hoping to find a solution, perhaps spraying the latrines and tents to repel the pests.

"Anything contrary to the health of people in the camp is something I just can't accept."