i-ACT’s Gabriel Stuaring and James Thacher are in eastern Chad documenting the stories of Darfuri refugees. This trip, i-ACT #16, coincides with the 10th anniversary of the start of the genocide in Darfur and the more recent influx of 300,000 new refugees into the region.
When Abdulaziz told me that the refugees were going to celebrate my 15th trip to the camps in Eastern Chad, I thought he was being polite and that they were happy that I was coming. After a few other communications, it sounded more like there would be a meeting with refugee leaders who were going to express their gratitude for all the support i-ACT and partners like the Enough Project and the Darfur Dream Team Sister School Program–and all the communities that care about Darfur–have provided. As I was getting into the car to leave the camp yesterday, Abdulaziz told me to come back at 7am and be ready for a five hour celebration, with music, dancing, plays, and speeches!
One of the handmade signs at the Djabal celebration. Photo: i-ACT/Gabriel Stauring
Five hours! Well, even after hearing that, I was not prepared for the all-out celebration the entire camp provided for us. I cannot imagine the effort it took to pull this off. I was told that the refugees heard that I was coming and wanted to honor me on my 15th trip. When I saw all the banners with that number, I felt bad correcting them, so I did not explicitly tell them that it was actually my 16th trip to the region. They made a collection for the funding needed and had all the different student groups and tribes prepare beautiful songs and dances. There was also a powerful play written by our friend Rahma, which told the story of how they became refugees, with little boys and girls (including Guisma and her brothers), acting the roles of janjaweed and villagers–with prop guns and all.
A scene from the refugee play about the genocide and diaspora. Photo: i-ACT/Gabriel Stauring
It was quite a show, in blistering heat! There was a huge crowd all around the area that was created just for this celebration, and the perimeter kept getting closer and closer to where we were seated as the guests of honor. All the refugee leaders and many agency representatives gave speeches thanking us for the work we do and asked that we keep supporting them and their dreams of going back home and rebuilding a better Darfur through education.
One of the most touching moments for me was when preschool-age boys and girls came out singing and carrying a sign that said “We are the Little Ripples of the Refugees.” The people of Djabal know we are supporting preschool education through our Little Ripples program, and that their camp is the next one to get a school.
A preschool class. Photo: i-ACT/Gabriel Stauring
I believe my speech towards the end was the shortest of them all. I told them that I represent many individuals and communities around the United States and the world that care about Darfur. John Prendergast’s speech was maybe shorter than mine…maybe, and the event closed with Omer Ismail speaking to his people in their own language, followed by loud clapping and yelling in support.
Gabriel Stauring giving a speech to the crowd. Photo: i-ACT/Murtada
As I told them, I never thought that after my first trip I would come another 15 times more. I wish I was by now visiting them at their homes in Darfur, but that is not happening any time soon. For now, we must continue to support their hopes and dreams of peace and progress here, where they are. What a celebration! My mind is still singing and dancing to a Darfuri beat.