At the height of the Darfur crisis, Khadidja and her family, including 8 children, were forced to flee their home in Harako. They landed in Gassiré, a crowded camp for displaced families near Goz-Beida.
Life in the camp was harsh. Although there was some assistance, the risks to their safety, health and survival were many. And so, a year after arriving, they returned home to Harako, but not without weighing the cost.
"We decided to come back to our village at al risk of dying here," said Khadidja, recalling a devastating loss she suffered because of this decision. "When we were searching for secure place, my three brothers were killed by armed groups. This incident affected me so much, it remains the worst memory of my entire life."
Before the crisis, families in Harako struggled, but managed to sustain themselves by farming during the rainy season and storing food for the rest of the year. Women traded food and supplies at markets in nearby villages to meet their families' needs.
"Unfortunately, we lost all our assets during the crisis. Even worse, we lost our brothers, sisters, children, and husbands. This makes our lives more miserable in this village, but since it is our village, we prefer to remain here and feed our children with the little arable soil available."
Many husbands resort to traveling across the border into Sudan to look for work, leaving women and children to fend for themselves.
Right now, Khadidja, who is married to Harako's village chief, earns enough to feed her family by selling firewood, weaving rope, and collecting straw and rubble to sell at the market. On a good day, she and a few other women can earn about $4 to buy food.
"We hardly eat twice a day and our meals are almost the same every day," she said. "It's really difficult for women and children."
None of Khadidja's children are in school, because there isn't one in Harako. Some parents left their children in the camp so they could continue school, but Khadidja kept her children with her.
Khadidja gets water each day from an underground stream, about a half-hour's walk from her home. Villagers have dug down about 15 feet to access it. Here, she collects water for drinking, washing, bathing, cooking and to give her animals.
Sickness is common in Harako and there's no healthcare facility nearby. If a woman suffers complications during childbirth, Khadidja says they hire a horse cart from a neighboring village to take the woman to the nearest health center, about 20 miles away, or to Goz Beida, which is 40 miles away.
"Even now, many people in Harako are suffering from conjunctivitis (eye infections), hepatitis, and diarrhea—especially children. But adults also have recurring abdominal pain," she said.
When asked what her community needs most, Khadidja describes the most critical: "We need clean water, a school, a health center, tools and seeds for agriculture, and support for women's income generating activities (small trade). We sleep in houses with straw and stubble; we must change into houses with bricks to protect ourselves against natural disasters, particularly fire."
But most of all, Khadidja prays for God's help. "We ask God to give us strength and the opportunity to get out of this miserable situation."