By Cindy Cao
Chad is both her native and new country. Zenabou Abou, 47, was a victim of war in Central African Republic (CAR) and she is today what we call “a Chadian returnee.”
Zenabou was born in Chad and left at the age of three to CAR where she married and raised her 7 children. « My husband was a veterinarian. He studied at the University of Bangui, » she says with nostalgia.
2013 was a turning point. « When the war broke out, my husband was in Bangui. He died trying to reach us in Bossangoa. » Her face becomes harder as she reveals her story. « An armed group fired on his vehicle. Some survivors managed to escape and told me he was dead. I could not know if it was true. I could not go and see his body. «
The pace of her voice begins to speed up. « I haven’t had time to grieve properly for my husband. It was necessary above all to save my children. » Zenabou took her family to a school which was secured by peacekeeping forces. The school was attacked three days later. « I was running terrified in the schoolyard to find my children. I saw my son falling dead from the bullets. I myself got shot in the arm, » she says raising her sleeve and pointing to the scar. A flood of emotions overtakes her and tears start to run down her cheeks.
Living with fear
In the days that followed, reinforcements arrived at the school and vehicles were evacuating survivors to Chad. Zenabou and her family managed to climb into a truck. “We were attacked again on the way. We got really scared as soon as we heard gunshots. This time, nobody died. We managed to cross the border.”
As she arrived in Chad, she was welcomed with other Chadian returnees and Central African. « I found people I knew. It was good. » Zenabou and her family have access here to basic social services: nutrition, health, water and sanitation, protection, income generating activities and sensitization to peaceful cohabitation.
This multiple assistance is now funded by the European Union and implemented by a United Nations Inter-Agency Network (UNICEF, FAO, UNHCR, IOM, WFP). It is vital to contain possible tensions that might arise between different groups: refugees, returnees, host communities, farmers, herders, Muslims, Christians, etc. Basic social services are equitably provided to all to ensure social integration and peaceful coexistence.
« Sometimes at the water point where all women go, there are arguments, » explain Zenabou. « Some of them shout: ‘’You and your group, you killed our parents’ and others reply : ‘And you! I watched you beheading my family.’If they call their husbands, there could be a fight. «
Zenabou understands well how important it is to prevent the importation of the conflict into Chad. « It is much better nowadays. People argue much less. All of us have been war-affected and we do not want it anymore. We understood that social mix and diversity are good. »
Zenabou says she feels « like another woman » since she participated in the community dialogue and awareness raising activities. She likes to give advice to people around her and feels active. « I think marriages between Muslims and Christians are good because their children will not want to kill anyone, but it’s still very difficult. This can create tensions within the family. It is not easy. » All forms of violence are no secret to her. « I also banned my children from excising their daughters and forcing them to get married too young. »
This the start of something
Her biggest dream is « to live in peace and rebuild my life. » Life’s hardships have forged her strength of character. She explains: « We lost all our belongings, our house and our vehicle. Everything was burned. Here, we are so poor. » However, she does not hesitate to roll up her sleeves to meet her current challenges.
« What do I want to ask to humanitarian organizations? Paid work, » she says with conviction. « We received financial assistance. We can borrow some money and then we need to contribute weekly to the common pot. I make some donuts and I sew so I can earn little money but it’s not enough to buy food every day. » Her solution: a sewing machine. « With a machine, I could work faster. I could sort this out and help my family,” she says determined.
Today, Zenabou leaves behind her the pains from yesterday so she can look to the future and build the foundations of a peaceful life for future generations.