Yesterday, I met a woman who shared with me one of the most horrible stories I have ever heard.
She had fallen asleep at her home one night, after staying up talking to her husband about the best education options for her daughter and son. They didn't have a lot of money, but public schools simply weren't an option, because she felt they could not provide the quality schooling she dreamed of for her children. So, they argued a bit about whether they could afford to send her children to a private school.
So far, this probably sounds like a common story -- a mom in search of the best future for her children. But here is where the tale takes a tragic and unimaginable turn.
A few hours later, they were awakened by a sound she had never heard before -- short, loud cracks she later learned were gunshots. This young mother grabbed her daughter and placed her in a backpack baby carrier and started to run. She watched as armed bandits came into her home and shot her husband and son dead. She continued to run frantically until another sharp crack sounded and suddenly her daughter strapped in on her back went quiet and limp. The young daughter had inadvertently saved her mother's life, and died doing it. The woman ran and ran, until the gunfire could no longer be heard and then started to walk. She walked for over 30 miles.
For her entire life, her home had been Darfur, Sudan. Now, for the past three years, she has lived in a refugee camp in eastern Chad.
For the past week, I have been living among refugees in Chad, where the vast majority of the more than 200,000 citizens of Darfur have fled. Upon arrival in this country, I was immediately struck by the fact that most of Chad might resemble a refugee camp to many people. After all, there is absolutely no evidence of industry in the entire eastern part of the country. There are no paved roads and only one percent of the country has access to a restroom with modern plumbing. One out of every five children die before the age of five and the basics of health care, such as vaccinations, antibiotics and clean water, are considered a luxury.
Members of UNICEF and UNHCR have given me a unique look at life inside the many refugee camps in this country. These camps have been filling up remarkably quickly with tens of thousands of people living in very close quarters. They complain bitterly of not enough food and clothing. They wish they had better roofs over their heads than sorghum branches tied together with twine. During rain season, they get wet and muddy. They are bored out of their minds.
Nonetheless, these camps have a strong "pull" factor. People fleeing violence in Darfur find their way here. Also, the living conditions throughout much of Chad are so terrible that many people will simply pack up their belongings and move into refugee camps, which ironically offer a better way of life than most people in Chad could ever hope to see.
In addition to the World Food Programme, which provides a ration of food, and Doctors Without Borders, which provides health care, UNICEF does something the young mother I met would have really appreciated. They provide an education, something her two young children will never get to experience.