We just arrived at a small village in a place that can be described as, without exaggeration, the middle of nowhere. Eastern Chad, close to the Sudan border, is a remote, harsh region. The airport we arrived at is a dirt runway, and there’s not even one tree with a shade that could serve as the waiting lounge.
I woke up at 2 am this morning, so I don’t have the mental clarity to write about all that it takes to be out here to expand Little Ripples, iACT’s innovative and ambitious refugee preschool program, to two more Darfuri camps: Mile and Kounoungou. It would take a book to fully tell the story. I can say, though, that it has taken years and a large team of dedicated and passionate people to get us here, and we’re only getting started.
Tomorrow we head out to camp Mile, a camp I first visited in 2005 and have gone back to a number of times. We have had the Refugees United Soccer Academy running there for a couple of years, and some of our best Darfur United players come from there, so we have many friends in Mile. On this trip, we will be training teachers, constructing in-home early learning centers (Ponds), and registering kids for Little Ripples.
The fact that another 300 refugee children will have access to a comprehensive preschool program, including a daily meal, is not the only exciting thing. Every aspect of the Ponds will be run by refugee teachers, coordinators, and cooks. For the training and selection of the staff, we have a group of refugees that traveled from camps Goz Amer and Djaba, where Little Ripples has been in operation for years, joining the three of us coming from California.
iACT is exploring and putting into practice new partnership models, as we strive to make our programs accessible to as many refugees with the need for them as possible. We are barely scratching the surface. Here in Chad, we work with Jesuit Refugee Service, the refugee community, and with support from a variety of funders, including so many small, individual donors.
We also have the most amazing team of volunteer experts, whom we call Little Ripples Expert Teacher Advisors (LRETA). Our LRETAs are not only teachers but also doctors, nurses, mindfulness gurus, academics, translators, and more. Their contributions are invaluable.
Tough times are now and ahead for Darfuri refugees. We see our programs as islands of hope that have a real and tangible impact. But services and support for refugees are, on the whole, being cut drastically. A time not far into the future will come when all humanitarian support might be asked to stop. This is why refugee empowerment, in every aspect, is essential. Nonetheless, it’s not easy in a region where basic survival is an everyday challenge.
We are working next to refugees on this challenge and looking at opportunities within this stressed environment. Donkey Ripples is a project that we’re currently implementing, iterating, and expanding in camp Goz Amer. Much more brainstorming, creativity, and trial and error are ahead with refugees from all the camps.
By the time we finally get to camp Mile tomorrow, it will have been almost five days since we left Los Angeles. It’s a long journey, but it’s inspiring to think about how far and for how long the ripples that get started in these camps will continue to expand.