Fatima Sookharia -11 December 2018
This trip to Chad was as much about a journey as it was about the delivery of aid, for the delivery of this aid is not possible without undertaking a journey of about 18 hours on a sandy, often gravel, potholed road through rural Africa surrounded by bush for as far as the eye can see.
A journey of self-discovery, undertaken from the capital, Ndjamena to a town called Gore which is on the border of the Central African Republic. A trip to deliver much needed aid personally by the Salaam Foundation to the people of the Central African Republic. A community of people who fled their country because of grotesque violence and violations against them and unspeakable brutality that they were subjected to. A journey about five South Africans, who set out, against all odds, to deliver basic needs to survivors of a genocide. A journey to a people who arrived from a place described as ‘the unhappiest place on earth in 2017’ now living in a country is known as the “Dead heart of Africa” for of the extreme levels of poverty and its landlocked geographical location. It is one of the poorest nations on earth.
After a long and tiring flight from Johannesburg via Addis Ababa, we immediately got into the thick of things by heading to the Gaoui Refugee Camp on the edge of Ndjamena. Along with the much needed food aid, copies of the Quraans were presented to the refugees. On an earleir exploratory trip in March this year, the people who fled their homes requested that these be sent to them. the book formed a central of their lives back in the CAR and not having one has been a source of great distress for the last four years. Elderly men waited patiently to receive a copy on while children scrambled in their shelter for thiers. As I handed out them out an lady named Rab’aa Omar stood up and recited a portion of the book beautifully. Another lady recited verses and was brought to tears.
I asked to visit some of the women in their homes and was taken to the humble dwelling of Zahraa Hussain, an old woman who was a survivor of the genocide that unfolded in the Central African Republic from 2014. She narrated her first-hand account of her experiences to us.
‘We use to live like normal people, leading our lives’, Zahraa explained. “Some rumours started where they were going to kill all the Muslims in CAR. We did not believe it at first, and then the conflict started, and they started killing people. They first started killing people from the surrounding villages, around the capital Bangui. They lit a big fire and started throwing people into a fire. They threw teachers into the fire. They threw old people into the fire. Alive, they threw people into the fire. They also threw people into the rivers. They started killing them like a genocide. All the people who lived in the villages fled, people started running to the city from the outskirts when the killings started.”
When asked about her own family, she said, “They killed three of my own brothers and one of my sisters.” Her son worked for an NGO and knew that if he stayed, he would be killed, so his organisation bought him a plane ticket to get to Ndjamena and she accompanied him.
We asked her what she had personally witnessed. “ With my proper eyes, I saw people that were being chopped up and put into piles. Bodies were cut up using machetes and then put into small piles. Some of them were burned, and their flesh eaten! They eat flesh,” she said. “People’s flesh!”
Hussain explained that young girls in Central African Republic werecaptured, kidnapped and used as slaves. “They make them sex slaves. One women in the camp has a brother and a sister that were kidnapped. they were not killed, but instead were being used as slaves. “
The next day we set off to the border. Two vehicles, 10 people. A team of 8 men and 2 women. Drivers, police, translators, Salaam Foundation staff and volunteers. The journey to get to the border was a drive of note. We drove, and we drove, and we drove, and we drove some more. No sanitation facilities along the way, no restaurants. Just bush and the company of the team. The road so potholed and broken that I felt nausea for most of the trip. African huts lined much of the way as people make their homes close to the road in the hope of passing trade. We made a few stops along the way where we experienced the local culture of the people. Bongor and Moundou were towns visited. Locals crunched on locust bodies as a snack and ate sugar cane. Fried fish was a delicacy that was enjoyed in the town. We drove through the day, through the potholes, through the upset tummies, through motion sickness and then we drove through the night, fixed a tyre puncture along the way and eventually reached Gore. Our hotel, a simple structure to rest for the night as we shared electricity from a dying generator and no hot water.
The next day was eventful. Four boreholes were opened in Koubitay refugee camp by Salaam Foundation. The women of the town were overwhelmed by the fact that they now have water right outside their homes. These women have been without access to it for more than four years having to travel kilometres to neighbouring wells. They were extremely appreciative and grateful to the all donors and Salaam Foundation.
The distribution of food was most welcomed by the people of the camp. Basic food items are seriously lacking in refugee camps. Currently refugees receive a total of $6 per month from the World Food Programme, which is hardly sufficient to sustain themselves. 20 tonnes of food were distributed in refugee camps in Chad by Salaam Foundation. The aid you supplied was quickly taken by the many hungry families. A grinding machine was also purchased as requested by the women of the camps to ease the burden of grinding wheat by hand. One woman recalled that the last time they saw aid was about five months ago.
Another amazing aspect we came to learn about practiced by both the Central African refugees and the local Chadians was the manner in which they learnt the Quraan. It is learnt by writing the script on wooden boards and then memorising what’s written. After reading the verses between 50 to 100 times, they have the words in their hearts. The board is then wiped clean with water, which they drink and then to have the words of what they’ve learnt running through their bodies. Even all the children learn this way and on an average of seven years, the Quraan is memorised entirely. After memorising 5 chapters of the Quraan, students are now required to start writing Quraan on the wooden boards themselves. When students write the entire Quraan without any mistakes they are given the title of a “Gooni”. It was fascinating to see a Gooni write Quraan on boards. A gift that I received, which I will treasure for life.
An orphanage was also visited in the capital Njamena. 42 women and children lived at this orphanage. Zahraa, a young girl at the orphanage was overcome with emotion. “I never thought that there would be anyone in this world that will ever come to us and give me something,” she cried . The prayers made, and gratitude shown to us was overwhelming for the humble gift that she received.
We were completely cut off from the rest of the world for three days, no internet connection, and nothing that was familiar to us and I thought about how these people of the Central African Republic were completely cut off from the rest of the world…. forever. Not anymore.
The people of Chad and Central African Republic are just about 5000 km from South Africa. They are people of our continent. The hellish images painted by women regarding the grotesque experiences that they have lived through leaves prints on our heart that drive us to do more for humanity.
Be part of our #AfricaArise campaign and help Salaam Foundation to support the many people of our continent that desperately need your help.
We would like to thank the Al Imdaad Foundation for its assistance during this campaign.
Account no. 6266 914 7665
Reference: Africa (Lillah/Zakaat)