As iACT’s US-based team mapped out plans to visit our teams in Chad this year, the last thing on our minds was war breaking out in Sudan. Of course, our organization is always aware that it is a possibility, and that violence in Sudan directly impacts our work in Chad with the Darfuri refugee community. We know all too well that the need for justice and accountability in the region is directly connected to ongoing tensions, as it is a regular theme in conversations we have with our Darfuri friends and team members.
But in planning our May-June trip to conduct training for our early childhood development (ECD) program, Little Ripples, we were focused on coordinating with our refugee-led expansion team, prepping resources, drafting modifiable training plans, and meeting with our ECD advisors.
Then April 15 happened, and we had to ask ourselves: Do we need to shift our focus? Should we still go? Will we be able to implement our training?
The answer was that we would still go. The teacher trainings would still take place, so that these new Little Ripples teachers would feel even more prepared to deliver play-based learning to their community’s youngest and most vulnerable.
By the time we arrived in Chad at the beginning of May, more than 30,000 people had crossed the border into the country from Sudan. We heard firsthand from our teachers about the many families arriving to refugee camps in the area.
As of today, more than 3 million Sudanese people have been displaced due to the war, with 2.6 million internally displaced, and more than 757,000 crossing the borders into neighboring countries as refugees and asylum seekers. Over 240,000 have crossed into Chad alone. The toll of those injured and killed is as of this time impossible to count.
The Work Continues
Traveling in Chad can oftentimes be logistically challenging, but on this trip, we experienced additional difficulties. The war in Sudan exacerbated an already-happening fuel shortage, which impacted the humanitarian flights that take us between refugee camps, significantly curtailing the number of flights and destinations. For us, this meant that instead of one-hour flights, we experienced a couple six-hour-long, bumpy, hot, car rides that took us through a largely unchanging desert landscape.
When we did arrive at our destination, we weren’t totally sure what we would find. Would we see any new refugees? How would our team members be feeling? Would everyone be able to show up?
Not only did trainees show up, but they fully engaged in activities and discussions, and were present in the trainings, even with a war being waged just on the other side of the border, impacting a number of their families and friends. They learned and shared new games to play with young children, and they practiced creating and telling stories. They also reviewed different ways in which children develop, and various activities that bolster social-emotional, physical, and cognitive learning. Mindfulness exercises and singing were scattered throughout each training session; and, through it all, everyone had fun. Most importantly, we did it all in community with each other, and learned from one another.
We started each of our training days with space and time for participants to discuss anything they wanted in regards to the war in Sudan. It was important to sit in community with them, to hear their concerns, how their lives have been affected by the war, and their hopes for the future. We heard about ongoing lack of service in the camps, and how the Sudan conflict has raised prices of basic commodities such as soap, salt, oil, and grains. Participants shared about how their communities have been coming together to see how they can support the new arrivals, even with the little they have for themselves.
After the time spent in camp Kouchagine-Moura, the newest camp in eastern Chad, board member Merri Weir reflected on why iACT’s founders placed so much importance on returning:
One of the most startling differences between this trip and the last was the increase in the number of emergency agencies / NGOs seen on the ground. These emergency NGOs are so important especially in meeting the immediate needs of the refugees, housing, food and immediate health care. They are crisis managers and are good at what they do, but oftentimes, their mission is temporary. At one point in 2005 there were around 200 NGOs on the ground in the eastern Chad refugee camps, and then five years later there were only a handful, including iACT.
Now that a new crisis has begun, organizations who respond to emergencies have returned. iACT remains in community with people who have fled conflict and who have still not been able to return home. iACT is one of the handful of NGOs who arrived in the camps in the early years and that has continued to return year after year. Founder Gabriel Stauring always stressed the importance of returning to the camps not just to be a presence, but to build community, be in conversation, and ensure refugee voices are heard.
Our Global Programs Manager Felicia Lee and board member Merri will go back to Chad in November, and are working with iACT’s refugee team members and Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS), a partner organization of iACT, on ways to support the youngest among the new refugees coming from Sudan. We hope the Chadian government will join us in our efforts to address the needs of young children arriving in their country seeking safety and stability.
How You Can Help
You can support our community-led response, enabling our experienced Little Ripples team members across the refugee camps in eastern Chad to visit and check in with new families. iACT’s immediate aim is to invite children to join our Refugees United Soccer Academy program while collecting information from families to inform how our response might evolve.
For now, we are committed to listening to the experience and needs of new families and supporting as many children as we can in having access to safe and joyful places to play.