“Ladies and Gentlemen, you may have noticed we’re climbing again. We’ve had to abandon our first landing attempt because there were animals on the runway. We’ll circle around and try again.”
And with that I arrived in West Darfur.

It’s hot as expected. It’s dusty as expected. There’s large piles of mud bricks everywhere. Not expected.

What I find interesting about visiting different areas across sub-Saharan Africa are the small and sometimes not so small differences and similarities. Here a big difference is the bricks. I’ve never seen so many.

The first thing you notice leaving the airport are large kilns on the side of the road. These are not unique to Sudan. They look like large towers of bricks (10-15 feet high), distinguishable by the multiple, rectangular openings on the bottom.

The problem with the kilns is that they need large amounts of firewood and, thus, can contribute to local deforestation issues. An attempt was made to switch to cement/sand/straw bricks but those weren’t as stable and buildings started showing cracks within months.  So, back to mud bricks it was. And they are piled everywhere.

I’m interested in the bricks for two reasons. Firstly, I never got out of the ‘why’ phase as a child. I still ask why about everything I see. I probably don’t make the best travel companion. But secondly and far more importantly, is the market flooded with them?

War Child has been working here since 2005 on a combination of programming, including livelihoods training. This essentially means that we work with people to help them find viable ways of earning a living, long-term; children benefit when families have sustained income levels. All our work is based on assessments of local markets. Why train 200 people to be brick makers if there are already too many bricks? They won’t be able to get a job. What if what’s missing is someone to make the shovels needed to put the mud for the bricks in molds?

In fairness, the bricks are just an example of how we begin to look at market needs. Our prior assessments of local markets have found that generally the needed skills are in metal work, woodwork, masonry, food processing, shoe making and tailoring. And so that’s the training we provide, combined with business skills and small start-up grants of materials or equipment, to ensure we’re not just providing training but a long-term opportunity.

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