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Grace and her children attend a Jesuit Refugee Service school in Djabal refugee camp in Chad. (Joseph Thera — Jesuit Refugee Service)

(Goz Beida, Chad) October 25, 2016 – Grace*, a Sudanese refugee woman and a single mother of six children living in Djabal refugee camp outside this town in Chad, has struggled for an education and a better life. When violence broke out in her village, Grace and her family were forced to flee. 

She lost her husband in Sudan and during their flight she was separated from her children. She reunited with them later near the Chadian border, and together they reached safety in Djabal.

Starting over in Chad was not easy. At first Grace remarried and had two more children, but she soon found herself divorced and on her own supporting six children. 

When most would have given up in despair, Grace chose to cling to the one thing that gave her hope: education. She and all of her children enrolled in a Jesuit Refugee Service school in Djabal refugee camp. With no education at all prior to the camp, she was able to work hard and reach grade six. 

Grace is trying her best to provide for her children. She washes clothes or plasters walls in ongoing projects in the city. Unfortunately, she suffers from headaches that prevent her from performing heavy work or working in the sun. She is unable to work after school when there is still daylight, so her children have to look for hay in the mountains or herbs to sell in the town to help get some money for their evening meal.

Her daughter Khadija works in the fields during the harvest to earn a little food as wages. During recess at school when they don't have food, she gathers her children together behind the classrooms so that they don't see others eating. 

Further exacerbating the situation, her PAM card — a UNHCR identity card given to all refugees that allows them to obtain food and other humanitarian supplies — categorizes her as a person with lesser needs. She therefore receives insufficient food rations for her family. 

The question of Grace and her family's resettlement remains unanswered. She cannot go back home because the conflict in Darfur continues to this day. Since it first flared up in 2003, close to half a million lives have been lost and an estimated 2.6 million people displaced. 

As recently as September 2016, Amnesty International reported that the Sudanese government had launched chemical weapon attacks on civilian populations in Darfur, killing at least 250 people. The majority of the victims were children. Until the conflict there is resolved, it would be unsafe for her and her children to go back home.

Grace continues with the daily struggle of pursuing her studies and raising her children by herself. Her dream is to one day finish school and become a nurse so that she can help people in distress. She chooses to focus on the future, and not on what she has lost but on what she can achieve for herself and her children. She believes that education is what will improve their living conditions in the long run.

Grace's story represents the daily struggle that many refugees, especially refugee women, have to go through in pursuit of a better future. Refugees must have tenacity, hope and perseverance in the face of insurmountable odds to get what many take for granted: an education.

It is people like Grace that embolden our resolve at JRS to continue the work of accompanying, serving and advocating for the rights of all refugees to an education. 

In the words of JRS international director Fr. Thomas H. Smolich, "Every human being has the right to education, and refugees and displaced people, perhaps more than others, need access to this right more than ever. Without education, the cycle of violence and displacement is difficult to break."

Claudine Nana, Alkhali and Elysée, JRS Chad
Antony Mukui, JRS International Office

*Name has been changed for reasons of security 

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