“We have been waiting seven years for someone to ask that question, and you are the first to ask it,” a teacher told us, when I asked, “What would you like to tell people around the world about you, your life, and your people?” Someone else said, “You are our bridge.”
Camp Goz Amer is on the frontline here in Eastern Chad. Located about 60 miles from the Darfur border and right on the path of a major dirt highway, they have taken the initial brunt of a number of Chadian rebel runs in to the country, with some pretty major fighting happening in and around the camp. People have been killed and injured. This has happened to a population that has already experienced major trauma in their own country, seeing the attacks on their villages and having to escape, while leaving many behind friends and family and all their possessions.
The people of Camp Goz Amer, none-the-less, are welcoming and open — and even refreshingly honest and humble — when they tell us from the start, “We are very lucky. Luckier than any other of the refugee camps because we have natural resources around us and even a wadi (river) just outside of the camp.”
By visiting Goz Amer for the first time, I have now visited ten out of the twelve Darfuri camps in Eastern Chad. Goz Amer is very alive, with the well traveled road on the edge of the camp and with a very entrepreneurial spirit: people involved in small businesses and trade. But, the people also feel isolated and “abandoned,” as one camp leader put it. The six schools are extremely run-down, with the exception of having three new classroom rows, one for each pair of side-by-side set of schools. Besides those new constructions, most students still sit on old mats or right on the dirt during class, and some are not even inside one of the dilapidated classrooms and have to be under a tree or in shacks covered with sheeting.
It was a positive, warm and friendly first day at the camp. We are looking forward to meeting more of the people over the next two days, especially more of the young students that expressed great hope about being a part of the greater world, connected to more than what is inside their island camp.