Hawa & the women of Jebel Marra

10:25 A

Tuesday 28 September 2021

When I arrived at Hawa’s house I found her courtyard very busy with women from Elsoquh, Elgami and other neighborhoods in the area. They were all discussing how to contribute to the establishment of a kindergarten and a women's centre in the area of Jebel Marra. I asked one of the women why they felt the need to establish a Women's Centre and she replied, “We need to learn new skills.” Noting that all the women seemed to be very busy farming, collecting water, taking care of the kids and doing all of the domestic duties, I asked if she thought the women would have time to operate the Centre. She replied, “Yes, we must.” The woman stated that they needed to improve their livelihoods by finding other sources of income. For example, she suggested that women needed to mobilise their resources to buy material used in producing traditional products that are functional, could also be sold as handicrafts to visitors and marketed outside the region.


The women went on to describe the many challenges facing the establishment of a system that can help the women in the area. I was most impressed by their conviction to this struggle and their desire to change their situation. They noted that their village has been cut off from the entire world for more than 10 years with no support provided to improve the living conditions of the women of Jebel Marra. At the gathering, more than 25 women came with their kids in their arms and others following them. You could see the resilience and strong commitment to their families in their faces. They were determined to make tomorrow better than yesterday. UNICEF and its implementing partner Care International Switzerland, are among the few humanitarian organizations to visit the areas since 2011. This was made possible thanks to the generous contribution of the European Union, who accompanied the two organizations on the first donor visit in a decade to Gorlanbang, Jebel Marra. The efforts to save lives will never stop with currently around 20,000 villagers living in the area. These villagers are actively farming and producing fruits such as oranges, mangoes and apples, but the living conditions of the entire area are very poor.

There is currently a lack of the basic infrastructure to support decent human life. There is only one health clinic under construction by Care International, but it is not yet functional. A demonstration of the urgent need for health services manifested during our mission; one of the women that attended Hawa’s gathering developed a labour obstruction. Having lost a child before, there was grave concern for both her and her child. Fortunately, there was a medical doctor accompanying the mission who responded to the call of duty and visited Fatma in her home at 2:00 in the morning. The doctor stated that he was not optimistic that she would make it in her condition, and we all realized that the nearest health facility was in another town. The shortest route there would require a 45-minute ride on a donkey or camel and then a 2-hour drive on a very rocky road. In the end, the doctor advised Fatma to make the journey. I sat silently with the other Mission members waiting for news and reflected on another village in the Jebel Marra that I visited more than 10 years ago.

Although the faces looked familiar and the present struggle was still very similar, I noted a big difference this time around. The resilience and hope of the people of Jebel Marra was strong. Thankfully, the mother and child were healthy. Perhaps the difference this time was also that we were coming as partners willing to put our hands together to build their communities. Indeed, the purpose of the Mission was to fully understand the needs of the area and engage the community members in the social change process. My perception was framed by my appreciation of the impact of a comprehensive Communication for Development process. communication for development is one of UNICEF’s key strategies/approaches to reach communities with awareness and information on health awareness, and social behaviour. UNICEF and its partners are focusing on increased community participation in development projects by engaging youth in the social change process and strengthening social cohesion between all community segments. Finally, I reflected upon the difference that ten years of support could make in enhancing the resilience of the area. After several hours, I returned to the moment, when I heard a joyful voice coming from outside the room. As we all rushed to find out what was happening, we discovered that Fatma had given birth to a lovely baby boy! Everyone was relieved and rushed to thank the doctor for his wise but brave decision and the drivers who managed to travel through dark and rocky roads to reach the clinic in time.

UNICEF, the European Union and Care Staff members departed with a promise to commit to working together with the community to ensure hope for a better future for the baby and coming generations.