“Welcome, my name is Fatou, I am 12 years old and I am a Sahrawi refugee.”
“This is my home, Smara refugee camp, I live here with my grandmother Safia, my parents and my big sister Fatimatou.”
Smara is one of five Sahrawi refugee camps in south western Algeria. Thousands of refugee families like Fatou’s arrived here in 1975 from Western Sahara, and have been defying the extreme weather and isolation of the Sahara Desert ever since.
“Please come inside our Khaima (traditional tent) and have some tea with my grandmother Safia and me. Tea is very important in our culture and as a guest you have to try it — my grandmother makes the best.”
“Let me tell you a bit about my life. I am in 7th grade in the ‘17 June School’, not far from here. Every morning I walk there with my girlfriends— classes start at 8:30. I like languages. My favourite subject is Spanish and I would like to become a Spanish teacher when I grow up. After school, I come home to eat lunch with my family and then I spend time with my friends. I like to listen to music and play outside but in the summer, it is too hot. I and the other children prefer to stay in the shade or in the Khaima”
The conditions in the camps are harsh, intense sun and wind mean that people avoid being exposed to the elements and try to find shelter inside.
“It is important to always protect yourself from the sun and wind here.”
Sahrawi women traditionally wear mehlfas, colorful fabrics they elegantly wrap around their bodies that also cover their heads and sometimes faces. In the desert’s barren environment, a woman wearing a mehlfa is often the only speck of color.
“My grandmother always says ‘The melhfa is part of the Sahrawi woman’s body. A Sahrawi woman without a mehlfa is like a family without a tent.
“Life is difficult here, not only because of the weather. For us youth there is not much to do. There are some small projects in the camps but I want to go study. I want to discover what is beyond the camps, meet other cultures, talk to people from other countries. This is also why I want to become a Spanish teacher — I want to be able to talk to foreigners and help other Sahrawi refugees learn”.
It is time for lunch, and Fatou’s mother carries in a big tray.
“The meals are my favourite part of the day because they bring us all together — when you eat together, you have enough.”
“I try to help my mother and grandmother with cooking. We all cook together in my mother’s kitchen.”
Most Sahrawi refugee families have their kitchen in a small adobe building next to their Khaima. This is also where they store their food, which comes primarily from humanitarian assistance. Every month, WFP distributes food rations consisting of wheat flour, barley, vegetable oil, pulses like lentils, rice, and sugar, which cover the refugees’ basic food and nutrition needs.
“Today we made lentils and we are eating them with bread that my sister baked this morning. We always eat all together, and sometimes have friends and neighbours join us, especially children.”
The family sits down on the ground and everybody eats together off the same plate.
“The meals are my favourite part of the day because they bring us all together. We call it ‘Baraka’ — when you eat together you have enough.”
“Thank you for listening to my story.”
Thanks to generous contributions from the European Union (ECHO), WFP is able to continue supporting Fatou’s family and thousands of other vulnerable Sahrawi refugees living in camps in the desert of Algeria.
Learn more about WFP’s work with Sahrawi refugees in Algeria