A Day in the life: A gender specialist in the midst of crisis around Lake Chad

Fatouma Zara is the Gender in Emergencies specialist with CARE’s Rapid Response Team. Fatouma works with our emergency teams to ensure gender remains at the heart of everything we do. Fatouma’s work has taken her to many countries including Cambodia, Mozambique, Ethiopia, and Turkey.

Today we find her in Diffa, in the south east of her native Niger. Diffa is hosting around 340,000 of the 2.4 million people displaced by the crisis in Africa’s Lake Chad Basin. Caused by violent conflict, extreme poverty, underdevelopment and climate change, the crisis is affecting more than 17 million people across north eastern Nigeria, Cameroon’s Far North, western Chad and south eastern Niger.

CARE is assisting more than 300,000 people currently seeking refuge in the Diffa region. We are working with local partners to provide hygiene and shelter kits, build latrines and boreholes, and distributing cash, food, seeds, agricultural equipment and small scale livestock such as goats and sheep.

CARE ensures that the communities with whom we work have a voice in the planning, implementing and evaluation of our programs. Fatouma is leading a team of evaluators talking to displaced communities around Diffa about the services CARE is providing them.


It’s Ramadan so my day begins at 3.30am, while it’s still dark. I begin with prayer to mark the end of the previous day, have a quick breakfast – just milk and coffee – and then prayers for the start of a new day. After that I prepare myself for the day ahead.

But before I start my work, I call home and check on my family. I travel a lot for my job and it’s not easy to be so far from home. My husband is like the mom and the dad to our three children when I’m away. Technology helps; I manage to talk to them every day, no matter where I am.


At the office I check in with our logistics team to make sure we have transport to the field sites. We are three teams and we’re each travelling to different sites so it’s a big operation. Our teams consist of CARE staff as well as our partners from local non-government organizations as well as government agencies. The scale of this crisis is enormous and it’s important that we all work together.

I’ll be travelling to Garim Wazam, a village to the north east of Diffa town, to support the team collecting data there. A few years ago, the population of Garim Wazam was around 700 people. Today it’s more than 21,000. The community is now sheltering refugees and displaced people from Nigeria


It’s a 50 minute drive to Garim Wazam. All along the way we pass the makeshift homes of the displaced. These people have very little and their homes are made of whatever they can find: tree limbs, millet stalks, with tarpaulins or pieces of cloth for shelter.


The interviews are going well and we’re collecting lots of good information that will help us plan our programs. Many of the people here, especially women, are telling us they’re not getting enough assistance. The humanitarian needs generated by this crisis are many but the resources are few. CARE is doing what it can but these communities need more.

Fatouma Zara is the Gender in Emergencies specialist with CARE’s Rapid Response Team


We’re finishing up our interviews and are ready to leave. I try to talk to as many people as I can throughout the day. All their stories are memorable, but if I had to choose one from today, it would be a woman I met who had fled her village. She said the insurgents came and killed almost all the men and boys so she took her son and ran. The insurgents caught up with her and told her they were looking for more men to kill. She dressed her son in women’s clothes, and that saved his life. These stories are heart breaking, and we hear many like them every day.


After stopping off at the office to make sure all our teams have returned, I do some final preparations for our site visits for tomorrow. I return to the small hotel I’m staying at while I’m here, and prepare for evening prayers. I check my email and respond to messages from the team here in Niger as well as colleagues in some of the 90 plus countries in which CARE works.

Iftar, the evening meal at the end of the daily Ramadan fast, consists of food that colleagues here in Diffa have brought me. It’s important to share food during Ramadan but a curfew here in Diffa means I’m unable to go out at night to share Iftar with my colleagues. So every afternoon, they bring me food before the sun begins to set, everything from hot porridge to my favourite – kopto, a leafy salad mixed with nut paste, onion, salt and a squeeze of lemon. I break the fast after sun has set, at around 6.40pm.


As the day draws to an end, I still have work to do. This is the quiet time for me, so it’s great to be able to finish anything outstanding and organize myself for the next day.

I also reflect on some of the people I’ve met today. These are the people that motivate me every day with their strength and resilience, especially the women and girls. Some of them have experienced extraordinary violence and trauma, but when I talk to them, they somehow manage to smile. They have nothing but they keep strong. I get my strength from them, so I can contribute in a small way to the effort to help them.

Learn more about CARE’s emergency work >>