Kalma Camp in South Darfur, Sudan is what they call a super camp, meaning it’s home to more than 100,000 people (in the case of Kalma, 170,000+ people are living there). The people who live in Kalma have been displaced from their homes in other parts of Darfur by conflict and violence, coming here for safety. Like any other camp, life moves on. Kids are headed to school, playing outside. There are markets where residents sell food and household items and tailors sew away at new garments.
Kalma is one of the biggest camps in the world for displaced people. With such a huge population, Kalma needs a way to organize itself. And that is through the sheikhs.
We met the Sheikhs on our first morning in Kalma. There are eight of them, each representing a different section of Kalma. There are also people in charge of the different interest groups – there’s a women’s leader, a leader for youth, a leader for religious groups, etc.
The Sheikhs have a small office and a large open meeting room where they conduct all the official business of Kalma – where they receive organizations like Alight, meet with government officials, and hold discussions and forums with the community they serve.
But they have a dirt floor and no chairs or benches. They do important work for their community in this place, and we wanted them to feel good and professional. So we bought them plastic chairs, enough to fill the room and get everyone up off the floor and focused on the topic at-hand.
“You came and you listened to us and you did it right away. This doesn’t happen here,” the head Sheikh told us. “Now we can welcome people to Kalma in dignity.”