Tea with Fatou

A 12-year-old girl tells us about her life as Sahrawi refugee in Algeria

Fatou is one of thousands of Sahrawi refugees living in refugee camps in Algeria. Photo: WFP/Chiara Herold

Smara is one of five Sahrawi refugee camps in the desert of southwestern Algeria. Photo: WFP/Chiara Herold

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.

Fatou lives with her family in their traditional tent, called a Khaima. Photo: WFP/Chiara Herold

With temperatures reaching 50 degrees in summer, everybody is looking for a bit of shade. Photo: WFP/Chiara Herold

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.

Sahrawi women protect themselves from wind and sun by wearing the traditional mehlfa. Photo: WFP/Chiara Herold

Sahrawi women traditionally wear 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 is often the only speck of color.

It is time for lunch, and Fatou’s mother carries in a big tray.

Fatou’s mother carries in a big tray with lunch. Pjoto: WFP/Chiara Herold

“The meals are my favourite part of the day because they bring us all together — when you eat together, you have enough.”

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.

The family sits down on the ground and everybody eats together off the same plate.

Everybody eats together off the same plate. Photo: WFP/Chiara Herold

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

World Food Programme Insight

Insight by The World Food Programme