By Felicia Lee
So, the bummer news first: today was our last day at the camps. Now, the happy news: we spent our remaining time well, visiting with old and new friends alike, and hanging out at Darfur United Soccer Academy (DUSA).
We began our morning in camp Djabal meeting with the director of a primary school and getting a feel for the school’s status quo. Much of what we learned was disconcerting: there is a lack of financial support, which means there is a lack of necessary school materials (including textbooks, tables, and unbroken chairs); teacher salaries are so low that the turnover rate is yearly and very high; student attendance has decreased by 44% since the beginning of the school year, because children are sent by their families to find food, due to the drastic cuts in food rations; most students arrive at school dirty since soap is no longer given to the refugees. When asked what would provide her hope for the school situation, the director replied that help is what is needed.
Our next stop was a happier one: we went to the home of Habiba, one of our four DUSA coaches. There we met Habiba’s lovely household, including her parents, as well as a few sheep and baby chicks. Later on, as we hung out in one of the huts, I noticed a hen sitting on a layer of eggs in the corner! There was a chick under the hen as well; the only reason I saw him/her was that he managed to poke his head out for a second, before momma hen shooed him back under.
At Habiba’s, Gabe taught the coaches how to lead their DUSA students in a mindful breathing exercise, and he also went over the benefits of said exercise. Sara-Christine then gave the coaches a packet of soccer drills, complete with illustrations and instructions and put together by Darfur United Coach Ambassador Rachael Rapinoe, to add to their DUSA curriculum. It was a very productive meeting.
After an afternoon break, we visited the day’s DUSA session. There, we handed out some letters and drawings from students back in the States, as well as took photos and videos of all the different activities led by the four coaches. It was so much fun to see the kids participating in drills, kicking around balls, and playing mini-matches with each other. It was also so wonderful watching the coaches as they trained their players with such confidence and leadership.
For awhile, Sara-Christine and I sat with Achta, who came to watch her kids practice as well as to see us before we left. Those were very peaceful moments for me, as we just sat and observed the field of kids. What struck me the most was how normal the atmosphere was: everything was serene, structured, and positive—one would never have guessed that we were sitting on the grounds of a refugee camp in the middle of eastern Chad. The coaches and the kids really deserve credit for creating not only an oasis in this harsh desert, but also a refuge (however brief) from their non-improving refugee situation.
It was sad, once again, to say goodbye to people we’ve spent the last couple days with, but at least our day rounded out nicely with one last get-together. We enjoyed a long chat over some beers and nuts with our new friends over at the local Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) compound. It was relaxing to sit around outside and get to know one another under the half-moon night sky. I also got to hear the sounds of a mosque for the first time (in my life), as we were pretty much right around the corner from one. It was a perfect evening.
Tomorrow, we catch our humanitarian flight back to N’DJamena.
I’m not ready to go home.
We Left It All On The Field
By Gabriel Stauring
They are thirteen, barefoot, and fast, and they ran circles around us. Sara-Christine and I were determined to beat Bashir and Bashar, Guisma’s twin brothers, in a rematch of a soccer game we played about a year ago, in which we lost 10 to 9. As you can see from the high score, that game was all offense, and it actually ended pretty quickly, even with all those goals scored. Today, I figured we could again play to ten, and I thought we would take them.
It was a hard fought game, and there was some tough defense played on both sides. It felt like forever plus more for either team to get to 2. The twins were wearing their Barcelona jerseys with their names on the back. Not to say that you could read their names during the game—they move so fast!
We hung in there, but somehow in quick succession—goal, goal, goa!—they got away from us and beat us 10 to 7. Bashir and Bashar are even better this time around. After more than a year in the Darfur United Soccer Academy, their skills are smooth and precise, plus they connect and play together, as if they were…well, twins.
I’m not giving up, though. Sara-Christine and I can beat them, so we’re going to make it a best out of five.
We said goodbye to Bashir, Bashar, Guisma, the younger boys, and their mother, Achta—and all of Djabal. It’s always sad. It was such a short visit, only two days, but it was meaningful and often fun. I am amazed at the pure joy that a round ball can bring, even in the most difficult of times. To see Guisma kick the ball and run and compete, with smiles and laughs all throughout, is so special and joyful to me.
I’m proud of our i-ACT team. Everyone works extremely hard, but we never forget to make it personal and take our time to create and nourish relationships, so that our shared impact is what the community really needs and wants. Our trips are not easy, and it feels like we leave a little of our heart each time we leave.
In parting for the twins, a big hug and a, “We’ll get you next time!”
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The petition to President Obama and UN Ambassador Samantha Power.
More information about food insecurity can be found on our virtual Refugee Rations report.
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