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Sudan: small successes in camps where the outlook is bleak

31-08-2006 Feature

Despite Darfur's worsening security situation, and calls from the international community for more support, there are small, quiet successes happening every day in the camps where hundreds of thousands of internally displaced people (IDPs) are seeking refuge. ICRC delegate Jessica Barry describes one such success from the Gereida camps in South Darfur.

Nazim is a field officer and health educator for the ICRC's nutrition programme in the Gereida camps. The programme is being implemented as an integrated project by the British and Australian Red Cross Societies. Barely 24 years old, Nazim is the head of a family that includes his mother and five younger siblings, his father having died some years ago.

  ©ICRC/J. Barry    
  Mothers with their children in the nutrition programme's day-care centre.    

 From strength to strength  

When he applied to joined the nutrition programme Nazim was still at university in Nyala, the capital of South Darfur. He had no medical background but badly needed a job so as to be able to pay for his brothers'and sisters'education. He suspended his studies and started work in the supplementary feeding centre (SFC), quickly becoming an asset to the team. Today, he runs health education sessions and gives English lessons to the rest of the SFC staff.

" Nazim has just gone from strength to strength, " says Hilary Floate from the Australian Red Cross, who runs the SFC programme.

Nuha is one of Nazim's success stories. Known fondly as the'mad lady', she has three children, aged eight, five and two, all of whom were admitted to the SFC last April suffering from malnutrition. 

Once on the centre's books, every child must follow a strict regime, attending once a week for surveillance and for his or her mother to pick up a bag of'premix'a specially prepared, nutritious food which the child is supposed to eat at home.

From the first day that her children were admitted to the feeding centre, Nazim set to work with Nuha giving her regular health education lessons, and coaxing her to look after her youngsters'nutrition more carefully. He never gave up, even when she became grumpy and difficult.

 Huge struggle bears fruit  

Nuha insisted on bringing her children to the SFC on different days of the week rather than al l on the same day, thus ensuring that she could sit and drink tea regularly with the other ladies. And without fail, each time she came, she had a complaint. The staff became used to her badgering ways.

It was a huge struggle to get Nuha's children healthy again, but slowly, very slowly, Nazim's efforts bore fruit. Two of the youngsters have recently been discharged after four months of careful feeding, and a huge amount of health education with their mother. The third child may also be discharged soon. 

So as not to lose sight of them now that they are well, Nuha's youngsters will be allowed to visit the play area in the oral re-hydration corner at the SFC whenever they wish. Since there are toys and swings, it is hoped they will come often. This will allow the staff to keep an eye on them and make sure their mother doesn't slip back into her neglectful ways.

 Multi-talented 'tea lady'  

Twenty-eight year old Zara is another member of the nutrition team who has made great strides. She started as a tea lady, but was so multi-talented that she quickly moved on to other duties. " She can do everything, " says Hilary, who has taught Zara how to follow up on the absentee and defaulter cards, how to do the registration of newcomers to the programme, and how to distribute the food that the children take home with them following their weekly visits to the centre.

The SFC is part of the larger Red Cross nutrition progamme in the Gereida camps that also includes therapeutic feeding for severely malnourished children. In a hopeful sign, the number of children under treatment in the SFC has fallen significantly in recent weeks, from a seasonal peak of nearly 2,900 in early July.

On the scale of things, Nazim's success with Nuha and her children will have little echo in the wider world, where all attention is fixed on Darfur's misery, but in the reality of the camps – where for the IDPs there is little reason to be glad – it is a triumph. It is also part of a growing trend, for in recent months, almost a thousand children attending the SFC have been cured.