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All of the Choices They Wish They Had, But Do Not

I’m not ready to go home. My chest feels tight. The emotion is building up. I could cry, but I won’t. I’ll keep it in until we leave. For now, I want to remain positive and focused. The Air France flight will be my space and time to cry.

Our time in the camp felt too short. But here we are, on our last day in the capital, preparing for the long travel back to Los Angeles. I find this part to be the most difficult. We are leaving and returning to a life of abundance and plenty, and knowing that each time we come back to the camps the situation is worse. There is less food, less services, less hope, but more needs. The population has grown, but the camp space and infrastructure have not. Another international organization has left or plans to leave. I never grow accustomed to this feeling, but the sadness I experience when leaving is always alleviated by the fact that we head home ever more committed. I find solace in knowing we’ll be back. We head home with the intention of getting more support for the refugees and our programs, so that we can bring back more opportunities and more attention. It is a tireless endeavor.

In my efforts to push through my emotions today and remain focused, I revisited the notes I took throughout each day in the camps. Amongst my scribbles I found three over arching issues (in no particular order):

  1. The cuts in food rations

  2. The need for better education, at all levels

  3. The lack of a woman’s right to choose

Three very different and complex needs.

I don’t want to disregard the first two issues, for they are both at the forefront of our efforts. i-ACT is currently fighting hard for the restoration of food rations. This is an urgent issue that we believe must be addressed now. For children under 5, it is a matter of life and death. For the community, it’s the difference between surviving and thriving. Writing this today, I wonder how many more trips I’ll be noting the food crises and making this type of appeal.

Through Little Ripples, i-ACT is addressing the needs of education for preschool age children. While all levels of education need to be supported and bolstered in the camps, we are filling the gap in early childhood education in order to prepare children for the years to come. Through Little Ripples we also seek to support the nutrition of children. We know food and learning are interrelated, and we know a snack at school can make all the difference. So we also fight hard for snacks.

But now I’d like to give space to the issue of women’s rights. It’s been a topic I’ve discussed often with women and men during this trip. I hesitate to write about the rights of women so briefly in a blog, because it’s an issue that runs deep in cultural norms and practice. I also hesitate because I’m well aware of my biases and the lens through which I view this issue. That said, I don’t want to not give voice to this issue because of those things. So I will.

In conversations with the Darfur United Soccer Academy coaches Habiba and Leila and the Little Ripples teachers, I was told how they wish for more freedom. Habiba specifically told me, “I know we [women] have rights, too.” The women would describe to me how their lives are decided for them by their fathers and husbands, that girls in their community are forced to marry as young as 10, 12, and 15 years old, and that a woman doesn’t choose when to have children or how many to have. They tell me they wish for more information on sexual health: more opportunities to be informed, to be autonomous, and to be able to make decisions concerning their lives and their bodies.

This is of course the view of just 15 women. I know Fatima, one of our Little Ripples teachers, loves being a mother and wants more children. So this is not to say that women don’t want to get married or don’t want children. But from what I’ve heard, it’s the freedom to decide that they seek.

This is more than understandable. It seems their entire lives have been decided for them. They were forced to become refugees at a very young age, growing up in a refugee camp where they are given little rights and voice in the decisions of their everyday life. They are told by humanitarian relief organizations and “experts” where they will live, how much food they will receive, and the services and programs they will be offered. At home, they are expected to marry young to preserve their dignity and to assure that they are taken care of. Then they are expected to provide as many children as their husbands desire.

I know this is only a sliver of insight. An issue and topic such as this requires more conversations, more understanding and much more than a few short paragraphs. Yet it’s important to acknowledge that this issue does exist and it’s one that should be discussed and better understood. It’s an issue I wanted to write about for my final i-ACT 21 blog. Perhaps I wrote about this topic if only to hold myself accountable. It would be an injustice to listen to these women and not act or speak out. But I know we at i-ACT will continue to do what we can to support the leadership of women through DUSA and Little Ripples, and I know will continue to ask questions, to listen, and to shed light on this issue.

In just a few hours we will head to N’Djamena airport. I will carry the hopes of these women with me as I travel home. I will allow them to weigh heavy on my heart. And for all of the choices I get to make every day, I will do my best to remember my refugee friends and all of the choices they wish they had but do not.



Restore 2100 image 2


The petition to President Obama and UN Ambassador Samantha Power.


More information about food insecurity can be found on our virtual Refugee Rations report.


To support our Little Ripples’ efforts to improve children’s nutrition and health.


Help iACT continue to do what it does best:

Support refugees in the forgotten corners of the world through soccer and preschool.

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