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How, and why, to get to a refugee camp

It’s been a long, long day. It actually started more than two days ago. We left Los Angeles loaded with duffle bags full of soccer equipment, our clothes, and the food we’ll be eating during the almost three weeks we’ll be visiting Darfuri refugee camps close to the Chad-Sudan border.

Of course, to leave Los Angeles we had to spend some hours in the airport and on the runway—before starting our eleven-hour flight to Paris. At the Paris airport, we then had three hours of waiting, then more time on the runway—before starting our almost six-hour flight to N’Djamena, Chad. I’ve now been to Paris more than 50 times, but only to the airport.

We arrived in N’Djamena after 8 pm, and it was after 10 by the time we made it to our hotel. But, it was not to be our hotel. For the first time ever, a hotel that seems to only lodge our team was out of rooms. We don’t understand how. It’s a big, four-story building! It looked empty to us.

Another hour went by in getting back into cars and making it to another hotel which did take us in. Exhausted (at least I was), we all went to our rooms and set our alarms to “early!” because our flight to the eastern border would have a check-in of 6:30 am.

With the time difference, the jet lag, and the weird energy of arriving at the hotel next to the river Chari—where we’ve had some excitement—I ended up only sleeping three hours, and off to an airport, again.

I have to say that it was an iACT record to arrive one night and fly out to the east the very next morning. This is thanks to the staff of Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) and to our good friend Amos. Everything was smooth. Our permits were ready, we exchanged money, our big bags made it though as cargo, and off we went in a humanitarian flight to a dirt runway on the other side of the country.

The great payoff of all that travel was that, only two days after leaving LAX, we arrived at a refugee camp in one of the most remote places on earth, got off from the SUV, and were received with the warmest, most joyful hugs you can ever imagine. Oumda was there. Achta, too. Little Ripples teachers and Refugees United Soccer Academy (RUSA) coaches were also waiting for us.

The real work starts tomorrow, and hopefully, the jet lag will not be as bad as today. We’re here, first, for another training for Little Ripples teachers. Second, we then move to two other camps, where we will launch RUSA. I’m looking forward to the days ahead. The work is important. Thousands more children will be given the opportunity to experience the joy that comes with RUSA. But the third reason is just as important. We’re here to be with friends.

Peace, Gabriel


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