Given what she has been through, the smile on Mariam’s face is an amazing sight.
Coupled with admiring glances at her daughter, it speaks volumes about Mariam’s fortitude and the sheer survival instincts which she’s relying on increasingly in a byword for hard living and unpredictability - Darfur.
It also says something about how the mother-of-five regards the help she’s getting from Tearfund, which is feeding thousands of civilians like Mariam who’ve been forced to leave their homes because of conflict in Central Darfur.
The UN estimates more than 300,000 people were made homeless in Darfur from the end of last year till early 2013, double the number for 2011 and 2012.
Queues for water
Speaking at a Tearfund nutrition centre in Nertiti, the 29-year-old reveals she is a widow who was displaced from her home in the mountainous Upper Jabel Mara region.
Along with thousands of others, Mariam is staying in a camp but it’s a refuge out of necessity, not desire: ‘The conditions in the camp are not good for my children and there is often hunger due to lack of food. Also I do not have gainful employment.
‘We spend a long time in the queue to receive water. Due to many people joining the camp, there’s a scarcity of water. The rains are now intensifying and our shelters are falling down. It’s also very cold at night especially for the children and we cannot afford blankets.’
Hunger has brought Mariam to Tearfund’s nutrition centre: ‘My daughter Zainab had been unwell and one of the sheiks advised me to bring her to the feeding centre to have medical attention.’
‘At first I was scared since I don’t have any money but my daughter has been treated free of charge.'Miriam, Darfur
Children attending the clinic receive medication, micronutrients and a food supplement called Plumpy Nut which together boost weight. Last month, Tearfund’s nutrition centres across Nertiti treated 308 children under the age of five and 69 pregnant and nursing mothers.
Mariam said, ‘At first I was scared since I don’t have any money but my daughter has been treated free of charge and even given food which we have been taught how to prepare. The doctor advised me how to give the child medication and he asked me to come back in two weeks to continue receiving food.’
Tearfund’s food and medical assistance is not only sustaining Mariam’s family but also giving her hope to think about the future, when it is safer: ‘My hope is to go back to our home in Jabel Mara. I need to plant and harvest to feed my children. I want to farm and sell part of my produce so that I can send my children to school.’
Such ambitions are a testimony to Mariam’s remarkably positive outlook despite being buffeted by the winds of conflict, an outlook that’s underlined when she’s asked what are her prayers for the future: ‘Education and health for my children and peace in Darfur.’
A little history ...
Tearfund has been working in Sudan for more than 40 years meeting needs of people traumatised and impoverished by conflict.
Our teams began responding to the Darfur crisis in 2004 by working in three areas of this region in western Sudan.
Teams provide food aid for young children and pregnant and nursing mothers, while health clubs teach about hygiene and the importance of clean water. We're also involved in building schools, providing safe water and latrines and helping vulnerable grow food.