Life in Laos through the lens of a diplomatic wife raising twin toddlers.
As an IDP you are a refugee in your own country living in a camp with other people who have faced similar atrocities. Some of those people are probably the same people from your village where they were your neighbor, your classmate from school, your shop owner, or a relative. You’re probably not even too far from your home, not in the same sense as being a refugee in a completely different country. Somewhere in the back of your mind there is always the possibility of going back. But as new influxes of people arrive in your camp, you hear repeated stories of continuing atrocities in the region and your hopes are dashed. The more stories you hear, the more you become afraid of going back, paranoid in fact, that you might someday be forced to go back. This mentality among the IDP’s in camps where they have settled for a long period of time, usually a year or more, can sometimes impede the delivery humanitarian aid efforts. Misunderstandings can arise at the slightest attempt for an NGO to conduct a new census in order to calibrate the need for relief supplies, water source to population ratios, and planned space for IDP settlement. A simple census can cause a serious stir within the camp when IDP’s mistakenly believe that it will be used for the purpose of a forced migration back to their villages.
Gaining trust was extremely difficult in this environment, particularly for our improved IDP shelter project. We had the design and approval at the government level as well as the UN to provide new shelters in Kass. The shelters were to use weaved palm mats produced at our Women’s Center, and each recipient would be trained on how to construct the shelter themselves with supplies and supervision from our team. But even though the IDP’s had been living in small crowded plastic sheeting and make-shift for a year or more, many were still suspicious of our plans when we wanted to survey the space in their camp for the new shelters, and to take a census of the families who would be the recipients of a new home. It required many discussions with village leaders and showing them the “model” shelters before we were allowed to build on our first site. But after the first group of new shelters were completed, people could see how desirable they were and we quickly received demands to start building in more locations throughout the camp. Recipients of new shelters enthusiastically participated and helped each other in the building process allowing us to complete the shelters in less time than we first anticipated. Another win to report back to donors growing impatient about our projects.
We were very proud of how this program was integrated with the Women’s Center. By supplying the shelter program with materials produce from the income generation program at the center, we created an efficient linkage that benefited many more people within the IDP camps than if all the materials were purchased from main city centers or brought in all the way from Khartoum. Moreover, the palm leaves used for weaving these mats were sourced from surrounding villages and our purchases were spread to three vendors.
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