By Guy Hubbard
GOZ BEIDA, Chad, 4 April 2012 – “There were strangers that came,” said Aisha Mahamat, speaking slowly as if reliving the ordeal. “They raped women and killed men. They attacked all of the small villages around Tandusa, and the people fled, and they came to Tandusa for protection because it was the biggest village in the area. But the strangers found out they were there and they attacked. They burned down the whole village.”
|VIDEO: UNICEF correspondent Guy Hubbard reports on Goodwill Ambassador Mia Farrow's visit to the Djabal refugee camp in Chad. Watch in RealPlayer|
She is in Goz Beïda, in eastern Chad, surrounded by women who have similar stories to tell. They all fled Darfur, Sudan, when their villages were attacked by Janjaweed militia, leaving everything behind: their belongings, their families, their lives.
UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Mia Farrow listened to their stories. She has visited Chad many times, including four times as a Goodwill Ambassador for UNICEF.
“We have family that stayed behind, but they too were chased from the land,” said Ms. Mahamat. “They're powerless. So that's why we can't go back.”
When she and the others fled, the Janjaweed followed, and local Chadians were also displaced from their homes. Many set up camps alongside the refugees from Darfur.
|UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Mia Farrow chats with a displaced woman and her child in the Koubigou displacement camp, near Goz Beïda, Chad.|
UNICEF has been working with the displaced communities, registering their children. During her visit, Ms. Farrow helped hand out the completed birth certificates. She also met with UNICEF-supported women's groups that operate income-generating programmes such as tailoring and soap-making.
Ms. Farrow also visited old friends, reunions that are bittersweet because her friends are still waiting to go home.
She visited Abdullah Idriss Zaid, who she first met in 2006, after his eyes had been cut out by Janjaweed knives; she’d held his hand at the Goz Beida medical centre until his father arrived. She also visited 9-year-old Adam Bakhit, who lost both his arms and an eye when he and a friend stumbled upon a grenade.
And at the Djabal refugee camp, Ms. Farrow was reunited with Hawaye, another old friend.
“We met in 2006. She had just come, her village had been destroyed and she was in a very emotional frame of mind. It was among the worst years of the violence, and people were still coming in from Darfur,” Ms. Farrow said. “So I feel overjoyed to find her again and to see her again, but it’s always sad to come here also because, [they are] great women, as you can tell, longing to go home, but longing for peace so that they can go home. I just think that there is no more visceral plea from the human heart than to be safe, to go home.”
|UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Mia Farrow speaks with 9-year-old Bakhit in the Koubigou displacement camp, near Goz Beïda, Chad. Bakhit was seriously injured by a landmine.|
Focusing on the future
Even amid this uncertainty, the women Ms. Farrow meets are focused on the future: their children and their children’s education.
“We women here are mostly illiterate,” said Ms. Mahamat, “so for us, our main worry, our main concern is the education of our children. We weren't able to go to school because of the fighting so we hope that our children at least will be able to and that in the future they'll be able to support us.”
Soon Ms. Farrow must say goodbye to her friends, not knowing when or if she'll see them again.
“We could not know what would happen if we saw loved ones killed and raped and our own homes and towns were burned,” she said. “We can't know if we would have the courage of these women and the generosity of spirit to care for each other, and to care for their children so beautifully.”