Eastern Chad is one of the most challenging places to live in the world, not to mention the complications of traveling there! In refugee camp Am Nabak, Felicia, Julia, and I, along with the newly formed iACT teaching teams and the RUSA team, walked down dusty pathways surrounded by mud brick walls and donkeys curled in a sliver of shade to avoid the hundred plus degree heat. Kids snuck around corners to catch a glimpse of us as we walked the camp. It was my first time visiting Chad and I found myself just as curious as those children.
Our time in camp Am Nabak was not so different from our time at the other camps, Goz Amer and Djabal. Each time we showed up to listen, support, and offer encouragement to the amazing refugee staff. Each time we were met by people and communities that were so glad to see us, communities that have been forever changed by programs like Little Ripples and the Refugees United Soccer Academy.
While in the camps, we did a number of meaningful tasks: walked around the new refugee-led ponds that were built in Am Nabak, visited the Ponds in Djabal and the school in Goz Amer, and talked with teachers, community members, cooks, and soccer coaches. We laughed and smiled with the children; children who are so precious the world over and who deserve so much more than what so many of them receive. It was so powerful for me to contemplate the ripples that radiate out to so many through these refugee-led programs.
Our time in the camps was the culmination of the hard work of many, fueled by hundreds if not thousands of caring hearts across the globe. The Darfuris living in Djabal, Goz Amer, and Am Nabak are making a life in a place that they neither chose to live in, nor have the ability to leave. Yet with all the tragedy, heartache, and challenges they have faced and continue to face, their smiles radiated and laughter bounced off the walls. What a precious gift to see the resilience of the human spirit, and how iACT brings hope, meaning, and tangible support, such as food, education, and work to a population so ravaged by genocide, war, and the inhumanity of power politics.
When I look back at my time in Chad with the amazing iACT staff and community members, it’s hard to find the right words to describe what was accomplished. Of course, there could be a list of such tangible things as delivering resources, discussing strategies for newly formed Ponds, and practicing mindfulness together. These are important, no doubt. However, they seem to somehow miss the main point of why we were in Chad, which was for our hearts to connect deeply with the hearts of the refugees from Darfur. We were there to let them know that they are not alone, that there are people far across the Atlantic Ocean, not seen on a daily basis, that hold them steadily in their thoughts, prayers, and wishes. Even though they have been removed from their ancestral lands, and have been forced to survive in a landscape that gives few resources and work opportunities, even through all this, they are not forgotten.
Not far from mind was that this was also only the second trip iACT has made to Chad since Gabriel and Katie-Jay passed away. Their names meandered in and out of so many of our conversations. Their presence and their light is still felt by countless people. The last day in Chad was Gabriel’s birthday, so we sat in the same hotel that he had sat in countless times, played the game he had played countless times (Kings on the Corner) and lifted our glasses in his name. Their work, and their legacy, live on in countless ways.