Committed Sudanese Women Work for CRS in Darfur

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Zeinab interviews a mother about her family’s eating habits to analyze health and nutrition issues in northern Darfur communities. Photo by Hikma Alnour/CRS

It’s a little unsettling to fly west across Sudan’s deserts to Darfur. The four-year-old conflict — which according to UN estimates has killed about 200,000 people and displaced 2 million from their homes — continues to rage. But in a number of places, an uneasy security holds, enabling aid agencies like Catholic Relief Services to provide emergency assistance.

The local Sudanese staff hired to deliver the aid on the ground are vital to these relief efforts. CRS currently has about 120 staff members in our West Darfur field office in El Geneina. When security allows, another dozen work out of three sub-offices in the 85-mile Northern Corridor stretch running up along the Chadian border. These dedicated professionals provide a wide range of relief services, including monthly food distributions to 150,000 people affected by the conflict, temporary shelter construction, health and nutrition training, education programs, agricultural recovery, and water and sanitation projects.

When I arrive at CRS’ modest sub-office and living compound in Kulbus, I’m surprised to meet two female staff members who are providing health and nutrition services. Male staff sure, but what are young Muslim women doing working in Darfur hot spots far away from their families?

“It’s better for women to do health and nutrition work because women are the ones who cook and provide primary care for their children,” explains 29-year-old Zeinab Mohamed, CRS’ West Darfur nutrition team leader who previously worked for six years with Sudan’s Ministry of Health.

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Hikma shows Haraza villagers how to make mud stoves that cook food twice as fast using half the firewood as open-air fires. Photo by Zeinab Mohamed/CRS

Zeinab works alongside 24-year-old Hikma Alnour, a CRS nutrition assistant. Teaming with two other female staff members in El Geneina, they coordinate health and nutrition activities in six El Geneina camps for displaced families and in the towns and villages surrounding CRS’ northern sub-offices. When they head north by helicopter, they travel in pairs and typically visit one or two sub-offices over a two-week period, providing as many services in as many villages as time and security allow.

“I want to support communities affected by the conflict and educate them on how to make their lives easier,” Zeinab adds. She also appreciates the money she can earn to educate her own children. With her seven-year-old son in primary school and five-year-old son in kindergarten, Zeinab needs to pay their teachers and for transportation each month.

Running through the list of CRS health and nutrition activities takes some time. These four women weigh children under five in the communities served, provide two weeks of daily follow-up to mothers of underweight children, hold nutrition education workshops, offer demonstrations of how to prepare more nutritional local dishes, teach women how to build simple energy-efficient mud stoves and train traditional birth attendants in prenatal and pediatric nutrition, immunization guidelines, breastfeeding best practices and more.

Today we take a four-wheel-drive truck across sandy tracks just outside of Kulbus to visit the village of Haraza, where CRS has worked for the past three years. A new mother joins us as we’re chatting with her relatives, and Hikma’s eyes light up as she reaches out for the baby. The one-month-old girl is doing well even though the family has its challenges. Villagers must collect all needed water by crossing the mile and a half of sand to Kulbus — a distance considered quite short in this region, especially when covered by donkey. Some women must also travel considerable distances to reach their farming plots of arable land.

I ask Hikma if she ever gets discouraged in her work.

“I support people from Kulbus and Sirba, so it’s good,” she says, shaking her head no. “Mothers don’t know the benefits of early initiation and exclusivity of breastfeeding. I teach them, and children benefit.”

I benefit too by having these women replace my preconceived notions with a new understanding of courageous, committed health workers who are more than capable of taking on the challenges of helping people in Darfur.

Debbie DeVoe, CRS’ Regional Information Officer for East Africa, is currently visiting projects in Sudan to share stories about the people CRS is assisting. This dispatch was written on June 16.

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3 Responses to “Committed Sudanese Women Work for CRS in Darfur”

  1. Dawn Brightbill Says:

    Debbie,

    Your articles regarding CRS’ efforts in Sudan and Uganda are eye-opening. Thank you for providing insight regarding what is happening on the ground in these countries. Keep the substantive stories coming.

    Best,

    Dawn D.
    Truckee, CA

  2. omer Elfaki Says:

    I apriciate the great role of CRS in my country especially in food distribution and education

    alot of thanks fpr CRS

  3. Photo Of The Week | Voices of CRS Says:

    […] provides food, health and nutrition among  other basic […]

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