“Refugee-led” is an adjective that describes Little Ripples and Refugees United Soccer Academy (RUSA), and today, I felt this feature of our international programs very acutely. For the launching of Little Ripples in camp Djabal, (eastern Chad) iACT’s in-camp coordinator, Al-fateh (a.k.a. “Oumda”), traveled over from camp Goz Amer with two teachers and one cook. We’ve been utilizing peer-to-peer training in bringing in new teachers, and these four Little Ripples veterans will be helping us start in-home preschool centers (“Ponds”) complete with a meal program here in Djabal. There’s been a RUSA in this camp for quite a few years now, and the four academy coaches also came out today to help with the endeavor of starting a program that will be brand new for this community. But wait, that’s not all! Since iACT has been visiting Djabal for over the past ten years, we’ve made some really good refugee friends, and three of these old friends are giving some of their time and skills to our current trip’s mission, too. With Gabriel, Sara-Christine, and me, this makes a grand total of thirteen people working together (here in the field) to bring Little Ripples to camp Djabal.
On our second day at the camp, together, as one large group, we walked around and through different sectors and blocks, scoping out potential Pond sites. Together, we held an introductory meeting with a number of women whom we’ll be training and from whom we’ll be choosing six as Ponds teachers. At the end of the day, the soon-to-be teachers-in-training went home, and it was the thirteen of us left, sitting together in an empty classroom. As we enjoyed the quiet shade of the indoors, I became aware of how….ordinary it felt. And I don’t mean “ordinary” with a negative “boring, humdrum” connotation. I mean “ordinary” in the “this feels like I’m in an everyday, normal setting, and not like I’m in a refugee camp” type of way.
It felt like it does back in the US, when an iACT crew gets together to prepare and plan for an upcoming event. It felt like I was among equals, and that I was with people with whom I shared the same goal of completing the same mission—not unlike the times back in school when I had projects I had to work on with group members. Above all, I was struck by how much it really did feel like I was working alongside a bunch of my peers. It did not feel at all as though I were merely visiting from another country as part of an NGO and with my NGO colleagues, here to instruct a bunch of random people on how to run one of my NGO’s programs, here just to manage some other people for a few days and then leaving to go back to my country.
This is something I love about iACT and iACT’s model of work. We don’t see “our” programs as belonging to iACT as an official organization. “Our” programs are “ours” because “we” are made up of refugees and non-refugees alike. Little Ripples and Refugees United Soccer Academy are co-developed with refugees we have built relationships with, and they are run and led by these same refugees. I’m reminded of the “teach a person to fish (instead of merely giving him/her a fish or even a fishing pole)” idea, except that we work side-by-side with the person, figuring out how to fish, together. And then, in partnership with this person, together, we show others what we’ve learned, listening to new ideas along the way. This whole thing might sound like an iACT plug, but, hey, I can’t help it if I love what we do and how we do it.
It’s going to be really awesome to see how the Little Ripples team in Djabal will take the program and add its own style to it, making it something that is unique to the community here, just as Little Ripples in Goz Amer has a distinctively Goz Amer flair to it. Until then, we have a week of logistical planning and teacher training to complete first, and I’m looking forward to accomplishing this task with a group of twelve of my coworkers.