Toward the end of January, iACT’s program associate Julia and I traveled to Chad to connect with our teammates living in the Darfuri refugee camps located in the eastern part of the country. We were there for a couple weeks, and the camps we stopped in were Am Nabak, Touloum, Iridimi, Djabal, and Goz Amer. We refer to this trip as “iACT33” because members of the iACT family, starting with our founder Gabriel Stauring, have now gone to Chad 33 times. Gabriel’s first trip was in 2005, and Katie-Jay later joined him for several visits.
iACT33 was unique. This was the first time that teammates from the United States and Chad met with each other since the tragic car accident that took the lives of Katie-Jay and Gabriel. I’ve visited Chad more than 10 times, and although there were parts of those visits when another teammate and would I split off from Gabriel, there had not been a single trip of mine that Gabriel was not also on.
The iACT volunteers and staff knew this trip would be important, even if we were going on it “just” to reassure our far-away friends that our support would continue, and that iACT’s programs and work would not cease or be negatively impacted by the loss of our organization’s leaders. However, it wasn’t until Julia and I saw our refugee colleagues face-to-face that the enormity of our trip’s significance was revealed.
Some Little Ripples (LR), teachers and cooks as well as some Refugees United Soccer Academy (RUSA) coaches expressed their concern over whether preschool classes and soccer sessions would keep going. Some expected to not have their jobs anymore. These worries were heard in their voices, just as much as the grief over the passings of Katie-Jay and Gabriel was seen in their tears. Then, when it was understood that Little Ripples, RUSA, and Darfur United were not going away, it was relief that was shown in our friends’ faces.
This trip was also different from other trips because Julia and I did not go to teach or train. Instead, we were privileged to sit in on the last couple days of RUSA coaches’ and Little Ripples teachers’ training in camp Am Nabak. It was amazing to be there as attendees and observers instead of as trainers. The expertise and leadership of our Darfuri colleagues was evident. The RUSA coaches and trainees had a lot of fun, and the sessions were thorough and organized. LR training was engaging, and the iACT staff was prepared with printouts and play-based learning materials. In the end, nearly 60 women and men completed three days of training led by our refugee teammates. From the beginning of our expansion into Am Nabak, our iACT team from eastern Chad has been managing and organizing the entire process, and will continue to do so until the end of this stage. Katie-Jay and Gabriel would have been so happy to see all this refugee-led action.
In one of our talks with the team there, we asked coaches to share some things that inspire them to continue being coaches. Asma, from Touloum, said that being a coach has fulfilled her dream of being able to play football. She shared that when she was young, she loved watching people play, but she couldn’t play because she was a girl. Mubarak, also from Touloum, said that he wants those who have disabilities, those who struggle with mental health, those who have been through trauma, and those who have been orphaned to feel that there are people behind them and who support them. He said that the best way he can do this is by being a coach.
It was humbling to hear not only how impactful iACT’s programs have been on people living clear on the other side of the planet from me, but also how much our refugee teammates have exponentially increased this impact in their communities. At the end of this talk, Oumda Alfateh, iACT’s on-the-ground program coordinator in the Chad camps, encouraged us not to focus on the things that Gabriel and Katie-Jay gave us, but to focus on what they have left us in our hearts.
To say this was an emotional trip would be an understatement. There was deep, deep sorrow over being in Chad without being able to communicate with Gabriel or Katie-Jay. There was exuberance at witnessing our Darfuri refugee colleagues lead the expansion of RUSA and LR on their own and without in-person support from those of us from the U.S. There was solace in the care that we iACT teammates felt for one another. And importantly, we were all still able to joke around with each other, tease each other, and laugh.
It’s always nice to be with our eastern Chad family, and it’s always fun to see members from different camps get together and interact with each other. We’re encouraged by Joseph Campbell to “participate joyfully in the sorrows of the world,” and there was definitely joy amidst the profound sadness of not having Katie-Jay or Gabriel with us.
This was part of my message to our team in Chad, and I include it here as a reminder—and, hopefully, an encouragement—to everyone who is a part of this organization:
“We lost two iACT family members, and that loss is extremely difficult and will be painful for a very long time. iACT, though, is more than two individuals: the whole team of people all over the world is iACT. You are Little Ripples, you are Darfur United, you are the Refugees United Soccer Academy. You are iACT.”
We at iACT will continue on, and we will continue to serve in the best way we know how: by keeping it personal, by holding strongly to relationships, and by maintaining our commitment to never stop showing up.