My dream i-ACT Expedition has always been to come to Eastern Chad, to these refugee camps, and help the refugees pack and go back to a peaceful home, Darfur. In my nightmares, I never thought I would be here for my 10th Expedition, with no packing day in sight.
During my first few trips, the refugees themselves seemed fairly certain that the conflict would be resolved, more or less, and they would be able to go back home. That word, home, was in every conversation I had with them.
Now, they keep building stronger and more permanent structures here in the camps. They are not losing hope of going back, but they are realizing that they cannot count on peace any time soon.
One thing that has not changed from my first visit is their hunger for education. They see it as their connection to a better future, a future they can still not see. Talking with Ali, young man in his late teens, he found a way to involve the topic of education in every answer he gave to every question I made. He wants to keep studying. He doesn’t know exactly how this can happen, but his determination is clear.
Many young men and boys like Ali do pack up and go home to Darfur. It is not a peaceful home they go to. They, being young males, are the main targets to be killed or drafted in to one armed group or another. They take that risk in their drive to keep studying. They hope to make it to one of the bigger Darfuri towns that is still standing, and then see if they can go to school there, extending their dream to become a doctor, a teacher, or the president of Sudan for at least a few more years. Many don’t make it to the towns.
One of the Umdas, or camp leader, at camp Djabal told me a few days ago that he was grateful for what I do. He said, “We will not forget you, when we go back to Darfur.” That sounded so good. Not the “We will not forget you” part, but the second part: “When we go back to Darfur.” The way the Umda said it was so decisive and real — nothing like a dream.