Does it have to be? Ever since I first started visiting refugee camps in 2005, there has always been the pressure—and guilt—of knowing that the number of people in just one of the camps is too large for us to have a positive impact on all of the people. When we focused on advocacy, in a camp of 20 to 30 thousand people we could only meet and gather stories from a very small percentage. There are 12 of those camps in eastern Chad. Now that we are working with the refugees on concrete programs for their children, we are very aware of the fact that not all children will benefit from them, even as we work hard to scale up.
On our recent visit to camp Goz Amer, Coach Souli told me about a group of men that came to him asking for soccer balls so that other refugees could also play, not just the Academy members. Souli did a great job of explaining how the balls did not belong to him, so he could not give them out. He told them that they belonged to the Academy, and it was his responsibility to save them for the hundreds of children currently enrolled and all the ones they would keep taking in.
I know it was difficult for Souli, and it’s been difficult for us when we’re asked, “What about the others?” This has happened with the Soccer Academy, the Little Ripples school, the LR Ponds, and the Human Rights Library. We cannot meet the demand and have enough (of anything!) for everyone.
For the Academy, if we give the coaches and players 30 soccer balls, those might last them one year of everyday use. If the Academy members were to share those with a camp of 26 thousand people, the balls would be gone in days, and the impact would be negligible. For the Ponds, the teachers can have up to 50 children in the little in-home centers. If we were to spread those resources so that every child got “something,” they would all get close to nothing.
iACT has very high expectations for its programs. They are designed to empower the refugees to provide spaces for their children that go beyond maintaining status-quo. They are spaces for their children to thrive. We believe that these are seeds that are being planted, and the fruits that are produced in the future will feed the entire community—and even beyond.
Of course, we want to have our programs benefit as many children as possible, as soon as possible. We never stop looking at ways of finding more resources and having a greater impact. But we don’t want to wait until we can reach everyone because that day might never come.
Using another metaphor: we are starting ripples. These ripples start spreading immediately, from the children (and teachers and coaches), to the families, to the community. The children are healthier and learn good habits that they then share with their families. The teachers and coaches become better leaders and learn skills that help them make everyone around them better.
These ripples are now spreading to Cameroon and its refugee sites that are the home for thousands of people fleeing violence from Central African Republic. What we have learned from working with Darfuris will help us in our work here, and the learning and growing that will come from expanding to another setting will help our work in Chad.