One 5-passenger truck, 5 passengers, 8.5-hour drive, 2 pit stops, dozens of check points, 1 “speeding” ticket, 1 nicely paved road, and 1 bumpy dirt road later and we’ve arrived at Batouri, Cameroon! This is the town that will be our launching point to visit “sites” hosting refugees from the Central African Republic for the next two days. It’s so beautiful here. All around us are chirping birds and vibrant green, lush tropical forest. En route we passed numerous small towns, young boys bathing in small ponds, and women selling fresh fruit, smoked fish, hedgehogs, and snake by the roadside. It marks a drastic change and different type of beauty from the dry, quiet landscapes of the Sahel and eastern Chad.
Another contrast to eastern Chad is the refugees’ condition. Refugees hosted in this are integrated into the local community. They do not live in structured, closed off camps such as in eastern Chad, and comprise a much smaller population. For that reason, over the next two days, we’ll be listening to and having a lot of conversations with both the local and refugee communities. I’m very eager to see how the integration looks and works, and how we’ll adapt our programs: the Refugees United Soccer Academy (RUSA) and Little Ripples.
It is so exciting that, for the first time, iACT is exploring how to expand the impact of our work beyond eastern Chad. However, it also feels a bit strange to be somewhere new after more than half a dozen trips to Chad. Upon arriving, I couldn’t help but think about our refugee communities in eastern Chad. That place has become a sort of second home for me. I think of Oumda Tarbosh, our Little Ripples teachers, the RUSA-Darfur coaches, and the significance of the relationships we’ve built. But I know it doesn’t have to be either/or, and I know that we have an amazing opportunity here. For the next eight days, we will give our full attention and effort to new communities, and hopefully build equally special relationships here in southeastern Cameroon.