“The women are really suffering here, more than other camps,” Bouba says to me as we walk past the second school being built by women. The sun is at high noon, and in a camp of 27,000 refugees, there are maybe 20 in sight. Ten children tagging behind us, hoping to get their picture taken, and a dozen women who have more strength than I would ever have.
In the morning they rise and gather gallons of water in jugs. Carrying them across the vacant school lot they drop them near the brand new brick building they are shaping by hand. With energy still plenty they fetch enough bricks for the days work from another area in the camp. And finally, as the sun begins to climb high in the sky, they put the pieces of the puzzle together in an attempt to turn a run-down primary school into a respectable learning environment.
School is out for the day, so the classrooms are empty. But these are not classrooms. These are sticks strategically placed to hold up the weight of shifting tarps. UNICEF, UNHCR, solid blue and green plastic sheeting stretched and held in place by rope that is fraying at both ends. The wind passes under, and heat and rain break in from the top. Some have chalkboards leaning on one side of the room. A few have benches strewn inside. Sand is the flooring and the table for these children, children just like ours living in American.
A dozen of these children’s mothers, mothers of Darfur, share in their struggles as they battle the heat and wind whipping sand to build a better school for the children of Darfur. But their lives are also filled with desolation. They have been working for 6 months, they have been paid for 2 of those months, and even then it is only $2.50 a day. Their eyes sag with depression and they wish they did not have to do such work in order to feed their children.
As I look around, I am surrounded by sand and clay structures. Structures that have to be rebuilt every year because the wind, and rain when it comes, tears it down. There is nothing out here except for this camp, nothing.
I close my eyes and try to imagine what it would be like to live here. Every morning to rise and collect water, to pass the time in idol, to be separated from my family who is in another camp, and to feel so alone and forgotten, that I will break rocks, mix mortar, and stand below the sun for 8, maybe 10 hours, building hope and a future for my children.
I open my eyes, and I am surrounded by desolation.