Archives du mot-clé REFUGEES

Sewing to weave links

World Humanitarian Day celebrates the spirit of sharing humanity

By Aicha Chir Nour

« We are 22 tailors and dressmakers from Gamboru Ngala, a small town located at the border between Cameroon and Nigeria. We had a good reputation for the quality of clothes we made, and were well respected in the community. Then one day, everything changed. One morning, we found our names on a leaflet that had been circulated all over the city. It said that the clothes we were making for women were too short. The leaflet was signed by Boko Haram. Fearing for our safety, we were forced to leave. I left for Baga in 2012, and I stayed there until the day of the attack.  »

In Daresalam refugee camp in the Lake Chad region, Jonathan dreams of his previous life. The tailor and sewing instructor has fled Baga on 3 January after the Boko Haram attack, to cross the border and seek refuge in Chad. He is now sharing his skills, teaching sewing to young people in the refugee camp. He told me it is the least he can do. For the young people, it is a crucial skill that could help them earn a living.

Too often, we forget that the first « humanitarian workers » are the members of the community themselves, like Jonathan. In an emergency, they are on the front line because they know their peers, speak the language and often have skills to share.

Learn and Share


Every afternoon, hundreds of refugee adolescents come to enjoy recreational activities at the Child Friendly Space, like art classes, football games, but also sewing workshops offered by Jonathan. Under a large tent, sitting on colorful mats, girls form a circle around sewing machines cutting different pieces of cloth. The sound of the pedals adds up to the girls conversations and colorful cotton fabrics are scattered on the floor in a lively atmosphere.

I am observing Jonathan leading the class and lending a hand to those that require help. They laugh, exchange, but remain focused on their tasks. One of them, Maimouna, 15, approached me and asked what I was doing here. I teased her by saying that I came to learn sewing with them. « We’re like sisters, you are welcome to join us, » she said, smiling.

Thinking forward

« Most girls wanted to learn something new. I was already teaching adults when I was in Cameroon and Nigeria. This is an opportunity for me to share my experience with these adolescents. They make me forget about all the troubles. And here, I do not feel threatened to do my job,  » Jonathan adds.

« When we come here, we set aside our problems and we focus on what we have to do. We can offer the clothes we make to our relatives and we have fun making them, « says Maimouna, while cutting a yellow fabric. « Those pants are for my little brother, and that dress is a gift for a neighbor who will marry soon”.

“So far, I’ve trained 12 young people, 11 girls and 1 boy. Sewing is a great way to take their minds off things they have been through. It helps them to think of their future. Who knows? Maybe, one day they will become great fashion designers. I’ve heard that there are refugees competing at the Olympics. I believe in these young people. What matters is their will, » concludes Jonathan, confident.

In 2016, thanks to a US$ 3,000,000 grant of the Government of Japan, UNICEF was engaged in a multi-sector response, including interventions in education and Child Protection for conflict-affected children in the Lake Chad region.

Merveille : « We must not fight. Let’s play together »

By Cindy Cao

Feiganazoui Merveille is a young girl from the Central African Republic (CAR) who fled the horror of war. She arrived as an unaccompanied child and now lives alongside other refugees and Chadian returnees.

While other 14-years-old girls learn, plan and grow, Merveille had a different fate. She was only 14 when she saw her parents shot dead.

« It was 3am when the attacks started and I ran to school. At around 3pm, there were further attacks and my parents died. They were fleeing when they were shot. I saw them. They were behind me, » says Merveille with a placid tone. « Then I saw a truck from the Chadian Government. I didn’t have any time to think about it, I just jumped into it. My brothers and sisters stayed in Bossangoa. Since then I don’t have any news from my family. »

The recent conflict in CAR has affected Chad more than any other neighboring country. It was the main recipient of an influx of refugees and Chadians returnees who were living in CAR for generations. This displacement placed significant pressure on basic social services as well as the highly vulnerable host communities.

With support from the European Union and through the Instrument for Stability and Peace Building, five UN agencies (UNICEF, FAO, UNHCR, IOM, WFP) are involved in several regions to improve the living conditions of refugees, returnees and host communities in southern Chad.

Teaching for peace

« I live alone in a tent on a site, » says Merveille. « I’m happy because this site is safe. I want to stay here until there will be peace in CAR. » Here, Merveille has access to health services. « A month ago, I was sick and I went to the health center. I got a consultation and received medication. « 

The girl is looking forward to a peaceful future. Education will play a central role in any progress. « I go to school on the site and I’m CM2. Later, I hope to become a teacher to be able to give advice to children and promote peace. I will organize football games with children to promote team spirit. We are all brothers and sisters, you must not fight. You have to play together. »


Zenabou stands for peace

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.