By Jody Williams
I’d ended my previous blog noting that when we got back to Bahai from our first visit in Oure Cassoni refugee camp, there was a meeting for us hosted by UNHCR that brought together representatives of the World Food Program, the International Rescue Committee, Tchad Solaire and others.
On Tuesday, 5 August, our last day in Bahai and Oure Cassoni, we had the opportunity to see the solar cooking project, a water filtering project and gardening at the camp before driving on to the airstrip for the flight back to N’djamena and then later that evening to catch our various planes home. We’d heard about these efforts and more at our briefing.
I’m not going to cover all the points of our meeting at UNHCR Monday evening because if I did, I think I’d never end the blogging and now I’m sitting in my living room in Fredericksburg and I think it is getting to be time to wrap things up! I’d actually started the previous blog when I was sitting for hours waiting for a plane home in Paris and could have gone on and on with that one as well, so I decided to split it into two parts and this is the second part.
A key concern for those working in the refugee camps and in Abeche as well is banditry and car jackings. A few days before we arrived in Chad, for example, a representative of the International Committee of the Red Cross had been shot when his car was stolen in Abeche. At our meeting at HCR in Bahai we were told that they’d had two vehicles stolen in the previous weeks – one in the middle of the day from the middle of Oure Cassoni.
These attacks had resulted in the decision to have armed escorts to accompany caravans of humanitarian aid vehicles going to and from the camp. This has resulted in serious difficulty in getting about resulting in shorter working hours and more constrained movement overall since everyone had to go back and forth at the same time. We weren’t even able to leave the HCR compound for a short walk in Bahai in the morning before we left for the camp.
Tuesday morning cars assembled at HCR and we left in a very long caravan for our last visit to Oure Cassoni. Before departing we had to say our good-byes to Mia, who was going to be staying in various camps to broadcast messages from Chad during the Beijing Olympics. It was sad saying goodbye to Mia – we made each other laugh and laugh throughout our almost three weeks of travel. Comic relief as our delegation grappled with all the difficult issues that had inspired our trip. Mia’s messages from the camps as counterpoint to China’s celebrating its “One World One Dream” Olympics are a good thing. Please take the time to follow her time in Chad at: http://www.darfurolympics.org/.
As I said above, we were able to visit several projects at Oure Cassoni before we left for the dirt airstrip of Bahai’s “airport” to return to N’djamena. At the water project, the solar cooking project and the gardening site, where trees were being grown – among other plants – to try to reforest the desert, almost all the work was being done by the women. At one place, a small group of men were sitting in the shade under a tree, while the women were digging away with shovels and doing all the work to create bricks that were in turn being used to build classrooms for the kids. When the men saw us taking pictures of the women working, they jumped to their feet and tried to feign some sort of work, but the minute we passed them and went to see the actual process of forming and drying the bricks, they sat right back down in the shade of the tree.
The gardening site was an impressive effort. When Wangari and I were walking toward the plantings we were talking about the desert and the trees that can survive there and we wondered why more wasn’t being done to bring life to the desert. The projects we were seeing were close to a damn that had been built across a wadi to capture the rains of the rainy season and put them to good use rather than watch them disappear as quickly as they came. Why not more damns at more wadis?
Starting and caring for the plantings is the easy part. Transplanting trees and insuring their survival is the big challenge – especially in arid Chad. It made Wangari and I think about why not plant many if not most of the trees around the wadi lake where water was available and slowly but surely enlarge the vegetated area? Obviously the trees can’t reclaim the desert over night, but wouldn’t planting them around the harvested water give them a real chance to take back the desert? Perhaps not in our lifetime, but sooner or later.
After seeing the solar cooking project (check solar cookers out with google), we met our plane and flew back to N’djamena to finalize packing, have dinner and head out for the airport one last time! We even had a little bit of time to help the local economy at the artisan market which was directly across from our hotel!
The end of a group trip is always a little sad – for lack of a more creative expression at the moment. Having been through so many experiences together, it is a little hard to say goodbyes even if at the same time everyone is really ready to get back home. We parted from Wangari and Wanjira at the hotel because they had a later flight which would take them home through Addis. The rest of us were on the same plane to Paris and there we’d separate for Boston, New York, Toronto and Washington.
It was an outstanding journey. All of the members of the delegation – both those who were with us in Thailand and those in Africa – were terrific. Easygoing, flexible, considerate – and always working together for what was best for the work we are trying to achieve both during and after the trip. Three weeks is a long time to travel together to so many different and sometimes challenging places. One could certainly expect a “melt down” or two! But our group was melt-down free!
It was an honor and a privilege to be with these amazing women of our delegation. And without the outstanding preparations by Liz and Erin and Demetri and Rachel, with the support of NWI interns in Ottawa and Houston, our very smooth trip would not have been possible. I am certainly thrilled to be back home, but I can honestly say that I wouldn’t have missed this for the world and can only imagine that any future trips Nobel Women’s Initiative might sponsor will be equally as outstanding.
Thanks for following our journey. Stay tuned for our follow up actions!