I often hear friends and colleagues say with sympathy and amazement, “they have nothing and yet they still smile”. This is a common reflection from people that see the videos and images i-ACT shares from eastern Chad. “They” being the refugees from Darfur, living in refugee camps.
To the onlooker, they might have nothing. However, time spent with the Darfuri refugees will reveal that they in fact have a lot. We just have to shift our view and notion of what it means to have. Having is not simply defined by the amount of material possessions one accumulates. Having may also be defined by love for others, by knowledge and skills, ingenuity, by family, friendship, ideas, stories, jokes, songs, and generosity. Through this alternative lens, Darfuri refugees have a lot. And while we fight to provide them with more opportunities, more sources of income, food, rights, and education, we must also acknowledge what they already do have—and build from that.
In 2014, I was able to spend some time working side by side with the men and women i-ACT employs to assist us in developing, implementing, and monitoring our programs on the ground in refugee camps. This allowed me the opportunity to learn what our refugee friends do have. I listened and I observed, and I realized all that was there. Which was far more remarkable than their lack of material possessions. Because its with what they already have that allows them to be resilient, to survive, and to move forward in the most unimaginable circumstances—circumstances they shouldn’t have to face.
Just days into 2015, I’ll be heading back to eastern Chad. We’re kicking off the new year by scaling up the Darfur United Soccer Academy to two more refugee camps. We’ll be training and employing 8 more men and women refugees to serve as coaches and leaders, and reaching thousands more refugee children with soccer, health, and peace-building curriculum. We’ll be building upon what the refugees already have. Continuing to work side by side with them to make our programs relevant, sustainable, and impactful.