Storytellers: feeding dreams, not just bodies
Abdallah Nassir, Abdallah Yacoub, Abakar, Hissein, Kaltouma, Sima and Hannan are among the 20,000 Sudanese refugees living in Djabal camp, near Goz Beida, Chad. They are also among the 35 enthusiastic young men and women participating in the World Food Programme (WFP)'s Storytellers project.
The project aims to give young refugees the opportunity to express themselves through video, photo and social media. For them, life has been really tough from an early age and war memories are often still vivid. Through their productions, they share their stories, their memories of home — sometimes happy, sometimes harrowing — as well as their hopes and dreams. They give outsiders a glimpse inside the camp: a place where people get married and babies are born; where people share meals, work, teach and learn.
When Chad was chosen for the Storytellers project, the general feeling was: "How exciting…but it's going to be tough!" However, Djabal camp offered the right conditions: internet access, a WFP partner — the Jesuit Refugee Service — already offering IT and language courses, and plenty of young people willing to take up the challenge. This was reflected in the more than 200 applications WFP received for the four-week intensive training programme.
Kaltouma is 27 and has two beautiful daughters, Iklas Ahmat, 9, and Mariam, 2. In March 2017, her husband decided to divorce her. He wanted her to stay at home, while she wanted to teach Masalit — one of the languages spoken in Darfur — to the members of her community. Today she gets no salary for her teaching and struggles to get by with her two children, but she doesn't regret her choice.
"Children must know their culture and traditions, even if they don't know their country. They are still Sudanese," she says.
Abakar, 27, agrees with her. He is a proud to be a storyteller — and a hairdresser by trade. "I'm happy to be here, in a safe place away from my enemies — but my roots, our roots are in Sudan: the place you were born is better than anywhere else."
Hissein, 33, doesn't share this point of view:
"I never want to go back. I will never forget what happened. My sisters were raped. In my village 60 people were killed. The camp where we lived until 2010 was attacked by Janjaweeds. They had heavy guns: 36 people were killed, 180 injured. I was arrested for a few hours but thankfully I was released alive. Two months ago I got married and now my goal is to go to Europe."
Sima and Hannan are aunt and niece. They live at the camp with three generations of their family. Sima's mother Aicha is the director at the camp school, where more than 400 pupils are registered. When they reminisce about their life in Sudan, good memories come rushing back.
"When we were living in peace with our neighbours, we danced, we ate together in perfect harmony. War destroyed everything. We would like to go back, but it is not possible. We have nowhere to go."
Despite their often traumatic experiences and the difficult living conditions at the camp, Djabal's Storytellers still have hope for the future. When asked what they would like to do become, their answers are doctor, lawyer, journalist, teacher.
Djabal residents receive food and cash assistance from WFP. Through the words and images of the camp's Storytellers, they can also voice their dreams and ambitions.
The Storytellers project is funded through WFP's Innovation Accelerator.