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Central African Republic

Refugees from Chad participate in focus group discussions

UNICEF Image: CAR, Chad, refugees
© UNICEF Chad/2009/Walther
Refugee women from the Central African Republic wait for registration by UNHCR, in the refugee camp of Daha, Chad.

By Cornelia Walther

DAHA, Chad, 27 March 2009 – Since mid-February, over 7,500 refugees from the Central African Republic have arrived in Daha, after being displaced by violence. Daha has about 4,000 inhabitants and is located less than 200 meters from the shared border with Chad. More than 80 per cent of the displaced persons are women and children.

Shortly after the influx of the first refugees, UNICEF dispatched an Emergency Response Team to cover the most urgent needs. Today – four weeks after the major arrival – Daha has an operational nutrition center as well as water and sanitation services.

Additionally, over 250 refugee children have been integrated into the local school. UNICEF has provided educational materials and built four additional temporary classrooms to ensure that each child has a place to learn.

“There are 300 refugee children at Daha’s school – only one out of three pupils is a girl,” said UNICEF Education Specialist Ben Moussa. “Every day that a child lives without learning is lost forever. Education is the door to the world.”

Focus groups for women

In early March, UNICEF organized focus group discussions in Daha on two crucial issues: girls’ education and antenatal care.

These discussions were the first social gathering since the traumatizing uprooting that many refugees experienced in February. The atmosphere was festive, in spite of the intense heat.

Over 1,000 people of all generations and genders gathered for the event, waiting patiently in the scarce shadow until the beginning of the discussions.

Challenging views on education

UNICEF staff presented the two key issues during the focus groups, noting that girls have the right to go to school and that women should go for regular check-ups at their local health centre during pregnancy.

“I was 14-years-old and had just succeeded in the entry exam for higher education when my father told me that he had found a husband for me,” said Fatime, a 40-year-old woman from CAR who has been living with her three children in the refugee camp for three weeks. I was lucky that I went to school for five years, but I wish it would have been longer. There are so many things that I wanted to learn and understand.”

Encouraging antenatal care

Staff members pointed out that education and reproductive health are intrinsically linked – a girl who is educated has a better chance for a healthy and safe motherhood and she will later be better equipped to care for her family.

“Antenatal consultation has three clear advantages,” said UNICEF’s Dr. Cisse. “First of all, it allows confirmation of pregnancy. Secondly, successive consultation prevents complications and infections. Finally, it allows the determination of risk factors and preparation for the moment of delivery.”

A woman named Zahra noted one reason that women do not seek antenatal care is because of shame and stigma. “She can’t expose her body in front of another man other than her husband,” Zahra said.

UNICEF is currently preparing the setup of an equipped midwifery tent in the refugee camp.

A thought-provoking day

The event ended with music and dancing. Over ten different ethnic groups were represented in two refugee sites, showcasing their own traditional dancing.

The atmosphere was light, but many women still looked lost in thought at the end of the day.

Discussions such as these focus groups could become the root of a silent transformation. UNICEF will organize regular discussions on similar issues during the whole stay of the refugees in Daha. In this way, displaced women and girls can find their voice.




UNICEF Emergency Communications Officer in eastern Chad, Cornelia Walther, describes the difficult conditions for 10,000 new refugees from Central African Republic.
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