This is my first time in Africa, my first time in Chad, and my first time in a refugee camp. As iACT’s Office Coordinator, I’m usually holed up in our cozy Hermosa Beach office. If I get sick of looking at my computer I go take a walk along the beach or get myself a chorizo burrito from the coffee shop upstairs. I’ve helped prepare the iACT team for some of their previous trips; making lists, checking lists, printing documents, and stuffing duffels full of soccer and educational materials. Then off they go. In the following weeks, I check out their blogs and pics from my computer screen filing the photos away. “Wow it’s so sandy” Click. “Aww the kids look so cute” Click. “Those must be the new coaches!” Click.
And now, I’m actually here. Surreal is the only word that comes to mind. I’m not just looking at some photos and reading about these people. I’m walking through their communities, into their homes, and shaking their hands.
As I sit on mats inside the homes of Darfuri families, listening to them talk about their daily lives and their children, I get overwhelmed. I want to give them all the food I packed for myself so their tiny bodies don’t break in half. I want to go home and gather all the baby clothes I can find and give them to the little ones running around with no bottoms, sitting on the dirt on their bare cheeks. I want to take all the girls and women and show them the world that I know, where they can do anything and be anyone they want. I want to give these people all the privilege that I was born with, that they’ll never know, and that I never deserved.
It’s hard to find words that haven’t already been said, or that will make you understand the emotions and the realizations that surface when you’re here. I keep thinking, “if everyone could see what I see…” What if one million people gave a dollar each? How many little ones could we feed and educate? How many soccer Academies could we open?
Change is slow, and I’m not always a patient person. Despite the poverty all around me and all the things I wish I could do for them right now, there is some hope and relief in what is already happening. The Refugees United Soccer Academy coaches in Mile and Kounoungou carry themselves with such pride. We walk around the camps and they seem to know everyone. The children admire them and it’s so clear they’ve become leaders in their community.
These are just words and pictures on your screen, but I hope you remember that these people are real, their struggles are real, and there is so much more to be done.