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i-ACT’s Early Childhood Work, Against Bears and Janjaweed

Some children see bears ready to attack everywhere during their “normal” daily life. The “fight or flight” response is activated, at times when it’s not necessarily needed, getting in the way of a happy childhood! This leads to health, cognitive, and emotional issues that impact life in a negative way for the rest of that child’s life. This whole-body response system evolved to have us ready to face the dangers—like bears and lions—that were imminent, when early humans lived in the woods or plains.

I’ve been immersed in research related to early childhood development and the effects of trauma, as we move forward with our plans for our Little Ripples and Darfur United Soccer Academy projects. The kids these programs are meant to serve have been born to a society that has experienced extreme trauma. Experts agree that this trauma is passed on to the next generation, even if the little ones did not experience it first hand.

Our little refugee friends are starting their lives being haunted by their parents’ bears (or Janjaweed) and then must also deal with their own, as they are born into harsh and crowded refugee camps where it’s difficult to even dream about a safe place to play, much less find one. Their “fight or flight” response is activated over and over again, and their whole emotional system is thrown off, affecting their ability to learn and thrive.

I live in Southern California, a place where Spring is eternal, where water flows freely even during droughts, and where bagels compete for our attentions with Jamba Juices, frozen yogurts, and iced mocha Frappuccinos. While there are many children in need here, it is also common to see kids with an iPhone in their hand and an iPad in their backpack, as they run home to play on their Xboxes. The more I dive in to the challenges our team faces to bring eduction and play to Darfuri refugee children, the more I feel privileged, personally and for my children.

I would be doing this work, even if there was no other argument than the one of compassion. But, there are other important arguments to be made. It sounds cliche, but it is true: we live in a small, shrinking, interconnected world. We cannot raise the moat bridge and think we can live in isolation, unaffected by what is happening “out there.” We can either decide to care now and be proactive in a positive, and yes—compassionate way, or we will most certainly have to deal with bigger issues later. Do we want to export hope in the form of books and balls — education and play? Or, do we want to export guns and war? By the way, the first option is immensely less expensive.

Research also shows that interventions and having safe places and caring adults in the their lives will effectively counteract trauma in children. Play is also a proven healing therapy. Toy blocks and a soccer ball can change the lives of children—and the world around them.

I believe in pushing our government and institutions to do the right thing. They won’t do it, just because it’s the right thing to do. We have to make it the right choice, politically, for them. But, we can’t wait until we turn that big ship around. It has been so wonderful to connect with amazing, compassionate, and giving people that want to be a part of putting some of those bears away, even if it’s for children that are half-way around the world and that they will probably never meet. Together, we’re not waiting.

Peace, Gabriel

If you are interested in volunteering for any of our projects, please contact


Help iACT continue to do what it does best:

Support refugees in the forgotten corners of the world through soccer and preschool.

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