We spent seven days straight in Camp Oure Cassoni and not once did we see a person or a family eating. When asked what they had eaten that day, many replied, just tea. Yet we have seen women carrying jugs of water from stations to their homes daily. We have seen two different groups of women breaking rocks, mixing mortar and building a school, block by block. We have seen children playing sports. But not once did we see anyone replenishing their energy with food.
Many people didn’t need to be asked about the food situation, the just told us. Although they might be registered many have to share with refugees, who after one year, are not registered. One man said they use to get one bag of food for four people, now they get one bag for six. Another woman explained that she gets 3 bowls of food per month for her and her two orphaned grandchildren. Many people trade some of their rations for a vegetable or piece of meat. Also, if they have animals, they need to give them some food too.
Besides oil, WFP only distributes grains, beans, sugar, and salt. This month there was no soap. WFP and UNHCR aim to distribute 2100 calories per person, per day, but over the past few months they have reached between 1800 and 2000. Here in their warehouse, they only have 2-3 months worth of food left, and with the price of food rising, rations have been cut. You can watch what Husna receives in the video for today. We carefully estimated that Husna, and each family member, eat 1017 calories a day, if they don’t share or trade any of it. Except for the sorghum, she could carry all her food for the month for a family of 5 in two hands. When was the last time you used one small basket for shopping for a month?
This is not enough food, nor enough variety to gain adequate nutrition for an adult or a child. Three pounds of beans is what I cook for one week for two people, and that might only last 4 or 5 days. The flour-like substance they usually form into some sort of gummy substance, probably mixed with the sugar and the salt to give it some sort of taste. I cannot remember the last meal I cooked without spices, herbs, or garlic.
Those of us who are used to variety of grocery stores, or farmer’s markets, what would we do with these rations? How would we cope with these ingredients? What would you make? How would your energy level be? How many years could you eat this same thing?
This is a population of farmers who for generations have been able to sustain themselves from their land. Now they are dependent on what is given to them and in a desert environment, and within a camp, where their natural lifestyle of planting and harvesting is not allowed or possible. Dependency: a word that has a negative connotation in Western culture, and especially in the United States. Grow up, get an education, build a life for yourself, do well by your family. But above even the culture pressure, how would you feel if your life depended upon handouts and donations. Would you be proud? Would you have a high level of self worth? I know for me personally, I would feel horrible. And after each month that I had to line up to receive my rations, I feel would worse and worse inside, and more and more angry at the situation.
When we thank a family for sharing their story, their response is filled with gratitude for listening to them, and sharing their story. They believe that after hearing their story, you and I will do more. Not because we could ever feel what they feel, but because their words describe the what we would feel if we were in their shoes.
We are all humans, and all share the same basic emotions. Right now we need to take a moment to reach into our hearts and imagine what it would be like to be hungry, dependent, and stuck.
This compassion will be what drives our action to help the people of Oure Cassoni.