Life in Laos through the lens of a diplomatic wife raising twin toddlers.

Honeymoon in Darfur – Women’s Center

A lot of people ask me what it felt like to work in IDP camps and how I handled the emotions that came with working in such harsh conditions and among people who were suffering from the terrors of the Darfur conflict. I always have to pause to try and remember but I can’t recall ever feeling terribly horrible about the suffering that IDP’s were experiencing. Maybe it was because of the resilience the IDP’s displayed on a daily basis, with their enthusiastic greetings and their glowing smiles. Or maybe it was the pressure of accomplishing our work that buffered me, topped by the excitement of my first humanitarian job and working along side my new husband. Timing was also a factor given that we arrived when the influx of IDP’s into Kass had leveled off and we weren’t faced with an IDP population who had recently been violently driven away from their villages. They had pretty much settled into camp life with a kind of easy routine that didn’t reflect the trauma they may have experienced. This was especially surprising to experience with the women in the camp given what most of them have gone through. While the men in their villages were usually robbed and shot by the government-backed militias known as the Janjaweed, women were routinely attacked and often raped but not killed.

Fuel-efficient stove production.

Stoves ready for distribution.

One of the biggest programs we had to set up was a Women’s Center that would provide education and livelihoods opportunities for the women to earn an income. Earning money was important on many levels – for morale, establishing a new livelihood while they remained in the camp, and to buy necessities even though they were receiving food aid and other basic supplies. The most important necessity for them was firewood. If the women could buy firewood in town, they were much safer than if they had to wander to the edge of town or beyond to collect it. On the outskirts of villages and IDP camps throughout Darfur, women were regularly attacked by the Janjaweed while collecting firewood. And to help them conserve their firewood, our organization had a team of scientists come out to study the traditional mud-stove used for cooking and they came up with a new stove design that used less wood but was still sufficient to cook the traditional food. At the women’s center, we trained a group of women how to make the new stoves and they in turn trained more women who would come to the center to produce them. They got paid per stove produced and we distributed the stoves to families throughout the camp.

Sewing class.

In addition to producing stoves, we organized sewing classes, literacy classes in reading, writing and math, and employed hundreds of women to weave sheets of palm leaves that we then used to improve the temporary housing for IDP’s which I will write about in an upcoming post. Some of the women came up with an idea on their own to use the palm to weave water jar lids to sell in the camps. We thought their initiative and enthusiasm was terrific.

And with hundreds of women coming to the center each day, we also provided a daycare so they could bring their children, drop them off at daycare, and go about doing their work or attend a class.

Math class.

Reading and writing class.

Preparing the palm leaves for weaving.

There was a lot of demand for the weaved palm for the improved houses we were building for the IDP's.

It was a very lively, communal setting for the women and their children.

Some women took their own initiative to make and sell water pot covers.

Bundles of weaved palm ready to build a family a new house.

The daycare full of singing laughing children.

We really have to thank Doctor’s Without Borders for transferring their medical compound to us to transform into a women’s center. They were wrapping up their time in Kass just as we arrived so we inherited the facilities you see here, and another that we converted into a veterinarian and agricultural training center that you will see in an upcoming post.

See more of this series at:

Honeymoon in Darfur – Our Humble Abode

Honeymoon in Darfur – Setting Up and Settling In

Honeymoon in Darfur – Latrine Rehabilitation

Honeymoon in Darfur – New Shelters

Honeymoon in Darfur – Picnic on the Wadi

Honeymoon in Darfur – Livestock and Agriculture

Honeymoon in Darfur – Curious Kids in Gusa Village


4 comments on “Honeymoon in Darfur – Women’s Center

  1. Pingback: Honeymoon in Darfur – New Shelters « Wanderlustress

  2. mulrickillion
    March 21, 2012

    This is a fascinating article, especially about the new stove. I was wondering if you have a photo of the traditional stove, because I am curious about what makes the new one burn wood more efficiently (i.e., shape, material, etc). Good article 🙂

    • Wanderlustress
      March 22, 2012

      Sorry I don’t have a photo of the older design but I can tell you that the new ones have more ventilation (see bottom arch and side opening). They are a little wider and have a metal grill at the bottom that sits higher than in the original stove. Overall, I think it was making space for more ventilation that allowed the wood to burn more easily and consistently, requiring less wood to cook the same amount of food. The scientists had the IDP’s participate in a cooking competition during their study. It was great for them to see for themselves. Great question!

      • mulrickillion
        March 23, 2012

        This is an excellent example of when the solution is so simple it is ingenious (i.e., original materials, slight modifications to shape, and simple physics). I find the innovations (or solutions) to poverty assistance fascinating, and this is clearly one of those examples. Otherwise, thank you for your answer, as a so-called “great” question received a “great” answer. 🙂

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