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Darfur: Quality Makes Shelters 'Home'

As Abdel-Mausa Daud tells his story, he holds his 6-year-old son Hassan close, looking purposefully into the small boy's eyes. It was nearly 6 years ago that the unthinkable happened.

A family erects the metal frame for its shelter in West Darfur, Sudan.

A family erects the metal frame for its shelter in West Darfur, Sudan. Photo by CRS staff

Abdel-Mausa's homestead was comprised of two brick-walled huts he built on the farm he'd worked for years. He lived a happy life with his family, and, though he had heard about growing tensions in the region, he never imagined that his quiet village would find itself in the center of violence.

Abdel-Mausa only had enough time to gather his family and flee.

"The rest became a new chapter I had to live—seeking shelter under the open skies at night and shade under trees when walking in the blazing sun became impossible," Abdel-Mausa says. "We eventually made it to Furburanga town, and it became our home. The town's authority provided us refuge at the hospital compound space, and many more people poured in. We had to pick up from there, and we built a makeshift home, covered with carton boxes and donated plastic sheets."

More than 360 families packed their huts into the overcrowded space. Each spot of land was covered with sticks, boxes and plastic sheeting, leaving no space between homes. Latrines were also scarce, only one for every 10 families.

"For 2 years, this was our life. I would sleep outside to provide space for my family. Hassan was born in the compound, but we lost two others. The living conditions were terrible, and the shelters humiliated many of my clansmen," says Abdel-Mausa.

More Than Mere Shelters

In 2009 and 2010, Catholic Relief Services negotiated with the local authority for land and successfully relocated more than 2,300 people. CRS worked with communities to develop the shelter design and ensure that community members could take the lead in their construction. Each family provided labor and local materials, such as wood for poles or grass and reed for the roof and walls. CRS provided the wood or metal frames, along with technical guidance. Since 2006, CRS has helped shelter thousands of internally displaced families in West Darfur.

A mother and child cover the roof of their home with grass mats and plastic sheets in West Darfur, Sudan.

A mother and child cover the roof of their home with grass mats and plastic sheets in West Darfur, Sudan. Photo by CRS staff

The environmentally friendly homes are made of collapsible metal frames that can be easily moved. Each home is spaced generously from its neighbor, so owners can build more rooms. And each family receives a certificate of ownership.

Abdel-Mausa is proud of the new houses in his community.

"They are spacious and decent and have given my community members the opportunity to live a decent life, despite our situation," he says.

Abdel-Mausa is optimistic that he and his family will one day return to their home village. He points out that the shelter's metal frame, which is easy to dismantle, transport and reassemble, will provide him with the perfect start when that time comes.

"Because of CRS, we now have a house," he says. "I feel human again. My family rose from ashes to hope."

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