Her assortment includes salt, onions, Maggi flavour cubes, little yellow peppers and cooking oil. Pointy plastic bags with the yellow liquid are shining in the afternoon sun. Once in a while, a customer comes to buy one of the little spice bags at Cecile Endamag’s (pictured above with her nephew photo: LWF/C. Kästner) market stand in Gondje refugee settlement, Chad. “People here miss the spices,” she says. “We receive cereals and basic food but nothing to make it taste good. Spices sell the best.”
Endamag is a refugee from the Central African Republic (CAR), whose border is only 60km from the settlement. Back home, she had a small food shop and her own warehouse with a good stock of supplies.
“When the war started, we went to hide in the bush,” she recalls. “After a while, that became too dangerous and exhausting, so we fled.”
Making life a little better
Endamag lost her husband in the war. She arrived in Chad in 2008.
A year ago, ACT member Lutheran World Federation (LWF) helped her open the business with a cash grant. “I do not earn much but the small money already makes life here a bit better,” she says. “I now have the means to buy school supplies and clothes for my children, and some additional food.”
Like her, 600 CAR refugees and vulnerable people living in the host community have received cash grants to open a business.
“We encourage them to form groups,” says Marie-Grace Longaye, LWF supervisor for income-generating activities in Gore. “This way, refugees form communities organize themselves and ideally also hold each other responsible for paying back the loan.”
The situation of Endamag’s family is what humanitarian agencies call a protracted refugee situation. Because of recurring conflict in their home country, people are forced to live abroad for years, sometimes decades. They build semi-permanent houses of clay with thatched roofs, farm a little piece of land allocated to them by the host country, and wait for peace and stability in their place of origin.
Some of the CAR refugees arrived way back in 2003 – their children know only the refugee settlement. The latest group arrived in 2014, when Anti-Balaka militia staged a coup against the Muslim president of CAR and started a war against the Muslim population. Many of them are Chad migrant workers in CAR. Although considered “returnees”, they have lost their homes and come to a country foreign to them.
A home away from home
Helping people create a business, therefore, is much more than a means to supply them with additional money.
“It gives them purpose again,” Longaye says. “They have seen terrible things and lost family members. Many women lost their husbands. Helping them to take life into their own hands again is also a way to help them heal.”
Small loan groups are meant to provide occupation, stability and a new community. This is most visible in the “Groupement Garage”.
As the name suggests, the group used their loan to open a business in car repairs, painting, welding and carrying out general metal work.
“We were the first to repair a car in the region,” says Amidou, the group’s president. “We now receive requests from people in nearby host communities who wish to join us.”
The group is integrating young and old, making use of a wide variety of talents. The youngest apprentice in training is Abulai Amadou, a 15-year-old boy with a hearing disability. “His mother brought him,” president Amidou explains. “Because of his hearing problem, he cannot go to school, so she asked us to train him.”
The oldest group member is Mamadou Abu, 53, the treasurer and unofficial teacher of the group. “We wanted someone old and wise to handle the money. We also come to him for advice and to train the young ones,” Amidou says. “He used to train apprentices in CAR.”
“This group gave me the opportunity to learn something,” Amadou Soufa, 22, says. When he arrived, he was still a teenager, with no hope of further education. Group members trained him in various aspects of car repair and metal work. Now he plans to one day open his own business.
“It is important to train the young people,” Amidou says. “The situation is psychologically difficult. We have been here since February. After all we have seen, there is no hope of going back anytime soon. We did not just want to sit around and do nothing.”