Over the past few years of traveling with iACT to eastern Chad, I’ve had the opportunity to meet and work alongside a diverse group of team members. For the implementation and development of our programs, we enlist experts across different fields to join us on our trips to the camps. For this trip, iACT22, we have Darfur United Ambassador Bridget Grant with us to train and select four new refugee coaches and open iACT’s third DUSA in camp Goz Amer. Here’s a brief conversation I had with Bridget on her experiences thus far in camp Goz Amer.
Sara-Christine: Bridget, as this is your first time in Chad, what did you think of the travel from the capital to the east of the country?
Bridget Grant: Well, after being stuck in the capital for so many days, it just felt productive to be moving and getting physically closer to the camps! Flying over Chad, I was struck by how vast and desolate the country is. Our travel went smoothly, as I was told in comparison to previous trips, so I have no complaints. I have to say that I was giddy when we arrived to Goz Beida airport; I walked off the plane and turned around to read the “World Food Program Humanitarian Service” in big letters across the plane. It made me really excited to be in the east and a part of humanitarian work.
SC: How was the drive from Goz Beida to Kou Kou?
BG: It’s more green than I anticipated. But I had seen iACT pictures and videos, so I had a general idea of what to expect. Again, it felt great to finally be here in eastern Chad—seeing everyday life, driving through the local market, and seeing donkeys and people carrying water, firewood or sacks of grain on their heads.
SC: What do you think of the UNHCR compound?
BG: It’s very comfortable! I’ve really enjoyed having the basketball court to kick the soccer ball around after our long days at the camp.
SC: All right, so let’s chat Darfur United Soccer Academy. Does coaching and playing in a refugee camp feel any different than back home in Los Angeles?
BG: Of course the environment feels different. The literal playing field, the heat, the crowd of children fascinated by what we’re doing—it all feels different, but I was most struck by how much fun all of the men and women refugees who were trying out were having! The teasing, the laughter, the encouragement, the joy of learning something new; it reminded me of what soccer is all about: fun!
SC: Was the skill level of the players surprising in any way?
BG: The skill level of the candidates definitely varied. We have about 17 who are consistently attending each day of tryouts; among them are some talented players, while others are touching the ball for the first time. But everybody who has continued to come out is working really hard and everybody is supportive of each other. Since we’re looking for leadership qualities and people who will be great with children, it’s OK that their skill levels vary.
SC: Have you faced any difficulties during tryouts?
BG: Initially, communicating with the refugees was difficult. But having Ramadan, Habiba and Soliman to help translate and explain drills has been really helpful and wonderful. Also, it’s definitely hot. I’ve never craved water so much in my life, but once we get going, it’s a distant thought.
SC: So I know that you have studied and worked on refugee assistance. You’ve worked in community-based management with Burmese refugees, yes? Is that what drew you to iACT?
BG: Absolutely, Sara-Christine. I was really drawn to iACT’s focus on creating sustainable opportunities for refugees, and when I heard soccer was involved, I knew I wanted to be part of the organization in some capacity. I’d been doing some research for iACT on early childhood education, and one day I got a call from iACT’s Executive Director, Gabriel, asking me if I’d be willing to join iACT on a trip to the camps the following month in order to launch their third Soccer Academy.
SC: And what were your initial feelings to his proposal?!
BG: When Gabriel invited me to come, he told me to take a couple days and really consider the security situation and the risk, but honestly I knew I wanted to be part of the trip immediately. However, I did make myself wait a couple days before calling Gabriel back to tell him yes.
SC: Thanks, Bridget. So far, it’s been a blast to have you out here with us and wonderful to see the Academy coming together!
BG: Thanks! Yes, at the end of today, I was buzzing. It went so well and it was so much fun. The experience as a whole so far has exceeded my expectations, and I’m really looking forward to more training and the opening day of DUSA tomorrow.