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How young people bridged the aid gap in Darfur’s Kalma camp

By Sven G. Simonsen

Kalma camp, South Darfur, January 2014 - For ten long days Khadija, 30, grieved at the thought of never seeing her five children again. The family had been separated in a fierce, armed attack. “The bullets were like water around us,” said one of her relatives.

When they were reunited, in the Kalma camp for displaced people outside South Darfur’s capital Nyala, Khadija could not stop crying. “I thought they’d died, I couldn’t believe they had survived,” she says.

There had been no safe place and no time to gather the children when the attack happened in May, in her village some 30km south of Nyala. Those who were able fled into the bush.

Days later, Khadija arrived at Kalma camp with other displaced families - 2600 in all. Among those, 40 children were missing – including Khadija’s.

130 children reunited

In the camp, Khadija was approached by the Kalma Youth Committee which runs a UNICEF-supported family tracing and reunification programme.

Abobakar Hassan Ibrahim was one of the Committee members who volunteered to search for the children. For days, he trailed the bush, covering vast areas. He was lucky. He first found two of the children, and after three more days of searching, he found the other three.

“Every year there are new arrivals at Kalma camp, and the Youth Committee assists those in need. Since 2012, they’ve reunited 130 children with their families,” says Yousuf Ahmed Mohammed, a project officer with UNICEF in Nyala.

Young people bridge the gap

The Kalma Youth Committee was set up in 2004 by young volunteers. It was just months after war had broken out in Darfur and the camp itself had opened. The young people in the camp had nothing to do and felt for the displaced families coming in.

“Fifty of us got together and organized ourselves in groups with different responsibilities – to receive the new arrivals, find places for them to settle, show them water points, refer the sick ones to a clinic, and so on,” Amir Abdalla, the Youth Committee Coordinator, explains.

Over the years, many humanitarian organisations were forced to leave Sudan, and by 2009, it was impossible for outside agencies to deliver support in Kalma. The Youth Committee filled the gap.

“We sat down with the Committee and asked if they could step in and provide support on behalf of UNICEF. They said they would, and that was how we initiated our first joint programme,” recalls Yousuf. “The Committee has achieved so many things – we are very impressed with them.”


Family tracing is only one of a broad range of protection activities that the Committee engages in on behalf of UNICEF. It also ensures young people aren’t recruited to become child soldiers, and combats gender-based violence.

“A couple of years ago, three women from Kalma were raped by militias while outside the camp. Two of them later joined the militias – they had been rejected by their own families, and had no other place to go. But the Youth Committee talked to the families and convince them to take the women back.”

Among the Committee’s achievements is its work with children traumatized by violence. Supported by UNICEF, they’ve set up three child-friendly spaces in Kalma camp.

Terror and trauma and the long way to recovery

Khadija’s children were traumatised when they came to Kalma camp. “When they were found, they were completely naked, very dirty, and very thin from hunger. When they were given food they could not stop eating,” she says.

Eight months later, they still suffer long-term effects from the days they starved in the bush, but their condition has greatly improved.



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