In 2019, MCC Canada writer Jason Dueck visited three refugee camps where MCC partner SECADEV (Secours Catholique et Développement, or Catholic Relief Services) is working to install upgraded water pumps and build latrines to support more than 15,000 refugees.
MCC photo/Colin Vandenberg
I’d never been anywhere that I would describe as truly “off the map” before. But when I watched the last bit of paved road fade into the rear-view mirror, knowing there were two or three more hours of driving ahead of us, that’s exactly where it felt like I was.
We were driving on the red sand of the southern Chad savannah towards the refugee camps supported by SECADEV. When I think of the camps now, in 2020, it’s impossible to ignore how the scarcity of clean water and tight quarters would put the people there at extremely high risk to the spread of COVID-19. But I’ve also seen how many other projects MCC supports have helped keep vulnerable people safe in similar conditions.
When we arrived in Kobiteye, I spent the morning with Papayon Adji. He is a mechanic who’d fled from violence in Central African Republic with his family. I learned his time was in high demand. He was the only person of 6,000 in the camp who’d been trained on how to maintain the new water pumps.
He was walking us through the process of taking apart and reassembling a pump when a crowd formed. It was laundry time. Once Adji put the pump back together, young children took turns pumping clear, cool water into large yellow tubs. They’d giggle as it took the weight of two of them to pull down the long metal handle before being teeter-tottered back up again.
It was the cleanest water I’d seen anywhere in Chad that didn’t come from a bottle. And these pumps don’t just make laundry easier. They bring safe water for drinking, cooking and handwashing for thousands of refugees who are trying to prevent COVID-19 from spreading in their community.
The next day, we visited a small village near the camps called Kagroï. It was home to some 300 people, a one-room schoolhouse, a solitary tree and a single open pit well.
MCC photo/Colin Vandenberg
One of the women was gathering water for laundry here too. I watched her lower a worn plastic jug through an open hole in the red sand. After it hit bottom, she reeled it in, hand over hand. When the small jug was finally lifted from the well, it contained two or three litres of sandy, grey water. I did some rough estimates on the length of rope she used. I guessed she’d pulled that bucket up around 136 feet, all for less than a gallon of water that isn’t safe to drink.
Nearly every factor in the lives of the people living here makes them more vulnerable to COVID-19. SECADEV’s efforts to bring clean water and teach prevention to these camps are more important now than ever. And thanks to the new pumps, Adji and his community have a fighting chance.