Always, Often, Sometimes
Our assessment work is hard. We have 180 caregivers and children to interview, and each interview takes approximately 25 to 30 minutes. Today, I completed 10. That’s five hours in a chair, in 100 plus degree heat, asking the same questions over and over again, and being fully present for every caregiver and child. That said, the part that is even more exhausting than the sitting, the repeating, the focus, and the heat, is hearing the responses to our survey questions.
The responses weigh heavy on my mind and my heart. At the end of each day, I try to let them go, but they are there, hovering over me, while I do mundane tasks back at our UNHCR compound, and when I’m lying in bed trying to go to sleep (I’m writing this blog in the dark, lying in bed, not sleeping). We, iACT, are concerned about whether the young children ages three to five in refugee camps Kounoungou and Mile are learning and developing. Thus, through our surveys, we’re measuring their social, emotional, cognitive, and physical development. But our survey is also telling us about the small amount of food and the very few types of food these young children and their families eat every day.
Here are just a few of the questions we ask:
“How often do you worry your household will not have enough food?”
“How often did you eat a smaller meal than you needed because there was not enough food?”
“How often do you go to sleep at night hungry?”
And the responses we receive are: always, often, or sometimes.
So now I lay here asking myself: How are we, the international humanitarian community, okay with the circumstances in which Darfuri refugees live—having had the responsibility of protecting, supporting, and empowering Darfuri refugees for 16 years now? Are we proud of the conditions in which children grow up in these refugee camps? Is this what we would hope or allow for our own children? How do we expect a community, displaced by genocide, to recover, to thrive, and to find purpose when they’ve been living in refugee camps for 16 years and have had no real opportunities to address their own needs and build their own solutions and as a result are constantly living on the edge, constantly just surviving? How can young children, and a community, grow and thrive in this context?
I’m so appreciative of the families willing to wait for hours to allow us to interview them. Truly, that amazes me. By no means are they required to participate. So thank you to all the families in camps Kounoungou and Mile for your time, openness, honesty, and generosity. We promise to take what we learn from you and advocate on your behalf, amplify your voices and needs, and to continue to sit with you and work next to you until you no longer wake up every day worrying about having enough food for you and your children.
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