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Coaches and Teachers

A week ago, I never would have believed that watermelons grew in eastern Chad. I saw the plants’ vines tangled in the sand as we drove from Guererda to Iridimi today. The fruit is sold everywhere—from the markets in the villages to the little restaurants in the refugee camps, and atone-person roadside stands. I chuckle at the irony that a fruit composed of mostly water appears to thrive in this unforgiving terrain with sandy earth, dry air, hot temperatures, and little precipitation.


Market selling watermelons on the road to Iridimi. Photo: Felicia Lee/iACT


It is this harsh climate and landscape that has been on my mind the past few days. As we walk between the houses made of mud and sticks, or make our morning commute on bumpy make-shift roads, I always find myself looking beyond the borders of the refugee camps. There is nothing in sight beyond the rocks, sand, and scattered thin trees. The camps feel almost entirely isolated—there is nowhere to go.


I wonder, “How do people survive out here?”


My heart aches and my stomach twists when mother after mother shares with us how her family fights to survive. It has been nearly 15 years since the worst of the violence erupted in Darfur, and still, the refugees struggle to meet their basic human needs, nearly forgotten by the international community in one of the harshest regions in the world.


I am only able to maintain my hope for Darfuris’ futures because I can see vines growing in the sand. I’m not talking about the watermelons.


It’s the current and future coaches of Refugees United Soccer Academy and teachers of Little Ripples that are bearing sweet fruit in these unimaginable circumstances. Their genuine, loving relationships with their players and students is not only growing a sense of equality, empowerment, and optimism for people of all ages, but it is linking refugees from each camp together despite the miles of sand that separates them.


As we expand the Academies on this trip and prepare for the launch of new Little Ripples in-home centers, I can already see the vines of friendship and unity spreading here in eastern Chad. Soon these programs will connect all Darfuris, helping them to persevere despite the brutal experiences they have endured.


Amy getting an impromptu hair braiding by a camp guide. Photo: Gabriel Stauring/iACT


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