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Last Updated: Tuesday, 19 October, 2004, 10:53 GMT 11:53 UK
Aiding Darfur: A nurse's story IV
Trauma nurse Roberta Gately, who works for the International Rescue Committee (IRC) aid agency, tells BBC News Online about trying to help some of the 1.5 million people who have fled their homes in Sudan's war-torn region of Darfur.

Roberta Gately with refugees
Roberta (l) is amazed at the refugees' resilience
In contrast to the vast deserts of North Darfur, South Darfur is a region dotted with lush green and abundant vegetation.

In years past, rich crops were planted and harvested here but in this most recent planting season, planting was scarce.

Farmers have been chased from their homes and their fields lie barren and scorched. Without a spring harvest to feed Darfur, starvation will be a certainty unless aid can reach everyone affected.

Unfortunately, aid still only reaches a small percentage of this desperate population. Insecurity and scarce international resources continue to affect the situation here.

Shelter and latrines

The town of Kass is an example of an area in need which is only now seeing necessary help pour in. Kass, a destitute town about two-and-a-half hours' drive from Nyala in South Darfur, houses over 45,000 displaced in small camps and former schools.

The displaced, along with the aid workers drawn there to help, have swelled the population of this tiny town and strained its meagre resources.

Many of the camps throughout Kass have yet to be officially organised. Shelter and latrines and water are only now being provided.

In many camps here, the earlier arrivals live under plastic sheeting and bits of reed. They have some protection from the blistering sun and the merciless rains.

But for most newcomers, shelter is a matter of creativity and improvisation. They manage to find bits of brush, old pieces of fabric and sometimes pieces of discarded cardboard and with that, they build huts and wait patiently for plastic sheeting to be distributed.

When the rains come, the sheets of water wash away cardboard huts and flood the dirt roads, creating impassable walls of mud and pools of stagnant water where disease thrives and preys on the most vulnerable.

For the health teams, the potential for disaster is only a heartbeat away. For the inhabitants of these camps, the potential for disaster has already been realised.

Bent and shrivelled

As I walked through a small camp in Kass during one recent rainstorm, the children, bored from the monotony of their existence, ran out and surrounded me.

Adults watched me and smiled but one bent and shrivelled woman stepped out of her hut and into the rain to greet me.

Yahima with her grandson
Yahima (l) fled her home with hardly any possessions
There were no interpreters about so we communicated with a kind of sign language. She pointed to herself and said: "Yahima" and then she pointed at me and so I responded: "Roberta."

She smiled a large, nearly toothless grin and was joined by a young boy whom she embraced within her bony arms. Through a bit of sign language and gestures, I was able to discern that they were all that was left of the family.

They shared a tiny hut made of cloth and reed covered by plastic sheeting.

She took my hand and motioned me in so I stepped in to have a look at her home. It was average size for a shelter, maybe 5 feet by 6 feet.

The heavy rains had leaked in and the floor of their home was now a muddy mess. Their only possessions were held above the water and hung from a rope which helped to hold this shelter together.

Their total belongings consisted of a plastic jug for collecting water, some blankets which were used as bedding and seating, and several pots for cooking.

Nothing else, no food, not even a change of clothes in sight. But this tiny hut, bereft of all possessions and memories, was touched by love and had the feel of a home.

Yahima and her grandson continued to smile, with not a sign of complaint or self-pity.

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