September 15 2006
SOS Children's Village to begin emergency relief programme in Chad
15/09/2006 - After a delay of several months due to security problems in Eastern Chad, the emergency relief programme in Bahaï is gradually starting for Sudanese refugees who fled to Chad from Darfur. SOS Children's Villages will provide aid in the form of medical, educational and psychological programmes, to help children and their families to overcome the trauma of the war.
In a joint effort with UNHCR, GTZ, WFP, IRC, ATAHS (Chadian NGO, programme for the fight against HIV & AIDS) and other local organisations, SOS Children's Villages will be providing help for traumatised and vulnerable Sudanese children and their families who have fled Darfur and are living in refugee camps in Chad. Since there is also a huge need for psychiatric treatment, patients with mental disorders will be included in the programme as well as people from the host community who will benefit from consultation and medical treatment every week. The emergency relief programme is already operational, but a lot remains to be done.
"Today, the carpenters will complete the construction of our base so we can start with consultations and treatment next week, when the base/treatment centre in the camp will be functional. Until that time we continue identifying vulnerable children and their families. We are using this time to make home visits and needs assessment. We are visiting the beneficiaries in their tents every day and selecting those who will benefit from our programme. We have a list of 85 children, 140 parents (mostly mothers) and grandparents suffering from psychological problems, who have been identified by the refugee leaders. But that number will increase because we will also include vulnerable children and organise activities for them. The list is growing every day. We were obliged to include adults in the programme because it is impossible just to treat the children when their parents are suffering from psychological trauma as well. We must reinforce the parents' capacity to care for their children", said Yolanda van den Broek, the coordinator of the programme.
The SOS Emergency Relief Programme will primarily focus on providing psychological care and play therapy, drawing, games and sports for the children, individually and in groups. There will also be individual and group counselling for the parents and psychopharmacological treatment for patients with severe mental disorders. There are a lot of children with epilepsy, for example, who would benefit and people with psychiatric disorders who need appropriate medication to stabilize their condition (depression, anxiety disorders, sleeping disorders etc), but this will however take some time because nothing is available at the moment.
A full team of staff has not yet been recruited, but Yolanda has started the process. "I have already recruited a psychiatry technician, social assistant, translator/logistician and three guards. Next week I will hold interviews to recruit the last psychosocial assistant. To follow up on the treated beneficiaries, community health workers will be recruited and trained to assist on a community level with self help groups", she said.
A long distance to be covered every day
All of the SOS Emergency Relief Activities are taking place in Oure Cassoni refugee camp. It is the second largest refugee camp comprising 25,953 Sudanese refugees, with 16,166 between 0 and 17 years (UNHCR June 2006). It is situated in the desert. The climate is harsh, extremely windy with frequent sandstorms. The refugees have been living there since it was formed in July 2004, without any kind of psychosocial support. They are totally dependent on humanitarian assistance: for food, shelter, water, education etc.
The Oure Cassoni refugee camp is situated 23km north of Bahaï, where the SOS Emergency Relief Offices are located. Bahaï is situated just 1km away from the Sudanese border. All the NGOs and UN agencies that work in the refugee camp have their offices there. Every day, co-workers in Chad cover a distance of 23km which separate Bahaï from the Oure Cassoni refugee camp, to take care of people (children and adults) who rely on their help. At the end of each day, computers, medicines, toys, games and all the working material have to be transported to the offices in Bahaï, where security measures have been reinforced.
Greatly needed assistance
In the refugee camp, there is a primary health care centre with a doctor, a few nurses and midwives. There are six kindergartens and three primary schools neighbouring our base, but they lack sufficient teachers and their classrooms (hangars) are destroyed by the wind thus the children are attending classes in the sun. There is no secondary school, but teachers are currently being trained. Sports fields, youth centres and women centres have been established but are not in fact functional due to an absence of qualified staff to manage them. There is a referral district hospital (set up by International Rescue Committee) in Bahaï and patients in need are transferred there by humanitarian workers.
The facilities run by SOS Children's Villages in Chad are located in the capital N'Djamena. It takes two days to get their by plane from Bahaï, or a minimum of three days by road but this is not advisable due to security problems and in the rainy season it is not even possible. SOS Children's Village is being thoroughly prepared to deliver emergency help in Chad. The refugees have undergone significant psychological trauma in Darfur and during their flight to Chad: children have been separated from their parents, mothers and young girls have been sexually abused, children have seen their relatives raped and/ or murdered, loss of homes and property etc.
"Today we discovered a young woman who is living together with her brother; they are both mentally ill and very distressed. The woman just delivered a baby but is hardly able to care for the baby. The pregnancy is most likely a result of sexual abuse. Many psychiatric patients, especially children and young girls, are extremely vulnerable and prone to all kind of abuse", said Yolanda, the coordinator of the programme.
In operation for just a few weeks, the emergency relief programme is already having a visible impact on the ground and the people are very happy. During a meeting that took place between the coordinator of the programme and the parents of the children with mental disorders, SOS Children's Villages were thanked for taking the initiative to occupy and care for their children.