Chad: spicing up life in a refugee camp

The LWF promotes business start-ups through small loans

Gore (Chad)/Geneva, 8. July 2015 (LWI) – In their assortment, you'll find salt, onions, bouillon cubes, small yellow peppers and cooking oil. Lace plastic bags with the yellow liquid glow in the afternoon sun. Every now and then, customers come and buy one of the small bags of spices at Cecile Endamag's market stall in the Chadian refugee settlement of Gondje. "People here lack the spices," she says. "We get grains and staples, but nothing to make it taste good. The spices sell best."

Endamag is a refugee from the Central African Republic (CAR), from which the settlement is only 60 kilometers away. At home, she had a small grocery store and her own well-stocked warehouse. "When the war started, we hid in the bush," she recalls. "After a while, however, it became too dangerous and too punishing, so we fled."

Life gets a little better

Endamag lost her husband in the war. In 2008 she came to Chad. A year ago, the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) helped her start her own business with a loan. "I don't earn much, but even the small amounts make life a little better here," Endamag finds. "Now I have the money to buy school materials and clothes for my children and some extra food."

As they did, 600 refugees from CAR and those in need from the local population received loans to start small businesses. "We encourage them to form groups," explains Marie-Grace Longaye, who is in charge of income-generating activities at the LWF in Gore. "In this way, refugees form communities, organize themselves and, ideally, also hold each other accountable when it comes to repaying the loans."

Endamag and her family are categorized as long-term refugees by aid agencies. Due to ever new conflicts in their home country, these people are forced to live abroad for years or even decades. They build thatched mud shelters designed for prolonged habitation, farm on a small piece of land provided to them by the host country, and wait for peace and stability to return to their homeland.

Some of the refugees from CAR have been there since 2003. Your children only know the refugee settlement. The latest group joined in 2014, when anti-balaka militias couped against CAR's Muslim president and launched a war against the Muslim population. Many of these new refugees were Chadian guest workers in CAR. While they are considered "returnees," they too have lost their homes and come to a country that is foreign to them.

En home away from home

Helping refugees start their own small businesses is therefore about much more than just generating extra income. "It gives them a purpose in life again," Longaye explains. "You've experienced terrible things and lost loved ones. Many women have lost their husbands. If you help them take control of their lives, you also help them heal at the same time."

Small loan groups are designed to provide employment, create stability and offer new community. This is most evident in the case of "Groupement Garage. The name suggests that the group has used its loan to open a business repairing cars, painting, welding and other locksmith work. "We were the first to repair a car in the region," reports Amidou, the group's president. "In the meantime, we're getting inquiries from locals in surrounding towns who want to join."

The group includes older and younger people, and draws from a variety of talents. The youngest trainee is Abulai Amadou, a 15-year-old with hearing impairment. "His mother brought him to us," says President Amidou. "Because of his hearing problems, he can't go to school, so she has asked us to educate him." The oldest member of the group is Mamadou Abu (53) its treasurer and unofficial teacher. "We wanted someone to manage the money who was old and wise. We also turn to him for advice and for the boys' education," explains Amidou. "He has trained apprentices in the ZAR."

"This group has given me the opportunity to learn," notes Amadou Soufa (22). When he arrived at the settlement, he was a youth with no prospects of continuing his schooling. Members of the group taught him about car repair and locksmithing. He now plans to eventually start his own business.

"It's important to train the young people," Amidou stresses. " The situation is psychologically stressful. We have been here since February. From what we can tell, there is no hope of a return anytime soon. We didn't want to just sit around and do nothing."

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