As a parent, how would it feel to put your children to sleep at night, without them having had a meal for the entire day, and not knowing where or if you would find food tomorrow? Over the last months, Achta has experienced that feeling, over and over again.
Achta is a mother of six children: Bashir and Bashar (twins, 13), Guisma (11), Abdelmouni (8), Gabriel (4), and Abdulai (2). More than two years ago, their father Adef went back to Darfur to try to find a source of income and resources for the family. They have not heard from him since.
The family lives in one small hut in a fenced compound. The area outside the hut is bare, with very few items in terms of possessions and just three cooking pots next to the mud fire pit.
Achta brought out a mat from inside her hut where we sat down for a conversation about her life in camp Djabal, and in particular the food situation. Achta said that her food rations were drastically cut months ago, and that these cuts have affected her family in an extreme way. At the time of our conversation, it was midday and her children had not had a meal since the afternoon of the day before. She said she has tried everything she could to find a way to get additional food to her children, but nothing has worked.
For a while, she was "going towards the hill" with her donkey to collect firewood so that she could then try to sell the wood to other refugees in her camp. This brought very little money. Soon, her donkey died because she could not afford to feed it. She then was only able to collect firewood that she could carry herself, but it was so little that it was not worth the many hours and physical effort it took.
She tried for days to look for paying jobs. She went to Goz Beida (the Chadian village approximately 45 minutes walking distance away) and asked around. While Achta looked for work, her son Bashar needed to stay home from school, so he could take care of his little brothers, Gabriel and Abdulai. She was not able to find work on the several days that she tried.
Some days before we visited her, Achta sold the one bed she had in her hut to buy food. This money had since run out. She allowed us to see the inside of her hut. It is a very small space, where Achta sleeps with all six of her children, and where they keep their few possessions.
We asked to see where she keeps her food. She pointed to the entrance inside the hut where she only had a small bag with what seemed like a few pounds of sorghum--nothing more.
We asked her USAID's Food Insecurity Survey (PDF) questions. Based on her responses, she always worries about food. The family always eats smaller and/or fewer meals per day, and out of the last two weeks, her children had gone without eating on three different days. By the standards of the Food Insecurity Survey, she and her children are severely food insecure. Achta told us that all of her neighbors are experiencing similar hardships. Since May of 2014, food rations for Darfuri camps on the Chad-Sudan border have been reduced to approximately 800 calories per person, per day.
The international community's ability to care for the displaced is in crisis. Refugees around the world are being asked to adapt to the new reality and become self-reliant. Mothers like Achta will do all within their power to feed their children, but sometimes the reality is that it's just not possible. As a result, the children pay the price. The damage to their bodies and minds is irreversible.
Food insecurity is a huge and complex issue to tackle, but we can do so much better at protecting the most vulnerable, especially the children, now. In the meantime, Achta will wake up tomorrow and go out looking for food.