Khadijatou: How 36 Years Living In A Camp, Fighting Hunger, Impacts Society And Family Structures

Copyright: WFP/Sandrine Godfrin

During a monitoring visit to Smara Refugee Camp the team met Khadijatou, one of the refugees who has been living in the camp for 36 years. She describes how her life was and how it has improved, thanks to humanitarian assistance.

During one of our visits to Smara camp we visited Khadijatou, who welcomed us into her khaima (tent) with a smile and offered us tea; an essential part of traditional hospitality.

The single mother of nine had lived in the camp for 36 years during which life in the camp had changed creating new vulnerable groups like her. Single-single families like hers are fully dependent on WFP food assistance.

WFP provides Khadijatou with a monthly food ration of approximately 17kg which is comprised of 12kg cereals, 1 kg corn soy blend, 2kg beans, 1 litre vegetable oil and 1kg sugar.  This ration provides enough food to reach the nutritional standard of 2100Kcal/day.

“WFP is our main source of food and now it has become the father my children do not have,” Khadijatou told us. The 35-year-old mother had her children from two marriages; her first husband left her and the second one moved to another camp after they divorced. She takes care alone of her six girls and three boys; the oldest is 15-year-old, the youngest is only one-year-old.

“God is with us,” she answered when we asked her how she copes with the responsibility.

In Khadijatou’s khaima there are carpets for seating but no decorative cushions like the other ones; it has an older air than neighbouring dwellings. While we spoke and enjoyed tea together, her children came and sat with us, some of them were barefoot and covered with dust from playing outside and they were very curious about us.

Khadijatou faces the same problems as many other refugees in the camps; very limited sources of income, husbands leave to look for better opportunities, and mothers are left to take care of their children alone.

“Mama, is it them who bring the biscuits to school? Tell them to bring milk too,” said one of the children tugging on Khadijatou’s dress as we were leaving.