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Meet iACT Executive Director Sara-Christine Dallain

Soccer coaches standing in line posing for a photo, outside in a dirt field, houses behind them.
Sara-Christine in refugee camp Gado in Cameroon with iACT's Refugees United Soccer Academy coaches.
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

I was born in Ontario, Canada, to a French Canadian family. My parents, and entire family, are from Quebec, Canada. My parents happened to move to Mississauga just before I was born. I grew up in a French speaking household, and culturally, a Quebecois household. So, while I was born in Ontario, I consider myself Quebecois.

When I was six years old, we moved to Washington state for my Dad’s job. At the time, my mother did not speak English. She learned by watching soap operas, and I imagine my English was also reinforced by Days of our Lives. That move certainly changed the trajectory of my life. My Dad held international jobs most of my life, traveling for weeks at a time. His travels are absolutely what inspired my curiosity and interest in other countries, cultures and communities. Through him I thought globally and wanted to act globally. At the beginning of high school we again moved, this time to Santa Barbara, California. This would again change the trajectory of my life, mainly through a love of the ocean and surfing. I grew up excelling in soccer and basketball, but once I discovered surfing those ball sports took a backseat.

It was also in high school that I realized and was determined to work in support of people affected by conflict around the world. I had a class whose text books were current newspapers and magazines. Each week I would read about what was happening in the world and reflect, unpack, and write about it. Through that class I became deeply aware of my privilege, and I felt I just had to try to use it towards creating a more just and equitable world. From high school and onward, my choices for college, my graduate degree, my internships, my travels, were all with the aim of working with communities affected by conflict. It was while completing my Masters of Public Health at UCLA that I was introduced to iACT. I’ve since bounced around from Los Angeles, California to Portland, Oregon, and I now live north of Los Angeles with my wife and baby girl.

Do you have a pet?

A mini-golden doodle named, Camper. He is ball and beach obsessed, a rascal, and an overwhelming snuggler.

What is your first memory of becoming involved with iACT?

Two Polaroid photos sitting side by side on a table labeled May 2014, showing Sara-Christine with a group of children in eastern Chad
The Polaroid Sara-Christine carries in her wallet.

Well, my first memory with iACT is when I initially joined as an intern while completing my Master’s degree at UCLA in 2012. iACT had created the Darfur United men’s team and was in the process of preparing for the first-ever Refugees United Soccer Academy. My task was to reach out and visit soccer stores in the LA area to secure free gently used equipment and display flyers at each store. I was happy to do anything and everything to help iACT!

But a more meaningful first memory is my first trip to the refugee camps in eastern Chad with Gabriel Stauring and Rachael Rapinoe in October 2013 to launch the Refugees United Soccer Academy. It’s when I first met Guisma and her family, including her twin brother’s Bashir and Bashar – members of the family we still communicate with regularly today. The family was so welcoming and so open about their experiences. When their village in Darfur was attacked, they lost sons and brothers and walked days and nights to safety to Chad, burying another child along the way. I have a Polaroid of me sitting with the family, and I carry it with me in my wallet to this day.

What is it about iACT that gets you most fired up? What sparks your passion?

What sparks my passion for the work we do is seeing and meeting women and children in displacement. It’s a visceral feeling for me when I see a photo in the media of a mother and child fleeing for safety, or if I’m in person bearing witness to their experience. It’s a pit in my stomach, it’s the feeling of wanting to cry, and also a surge of energy and determination to do more.

Three people standing on a dirt air strip in front of a UN plane.
Gabriel Stauring, Traca Gress, and Sara-Christine in eastern Chad waiting for the UN transport plane.

Is there a moment that has stayed with you from one of your trips with the team? What touched you about that moment?

The moments that stay with me on every trip are the joy of reuniting with our refugee team members and the sadness and ache I feel when saying goodbye. Both are overwhelming in very different ways, every time. Every arrival to a camp or community where we have iACT team members is overwhelmingly joyful, loving, welcoming, fun, and funny with a sense of excitement for the collaboration for the days ahead. Every goodbye and departure back to the US is a feeling of sadness for leaving, a feeling like I don't do enough and a feeling of guilt that I am returning back to safety, opportunity, and abundance while my friends and colleagues remain confined to life in a camp.

What is it that keeps you coming back?

Two things keep me coming back:

First, the people of iACT – staff, volunteers, refugee team members, and the board. I’ve never met a more compassionate, caring, dedicated, humble, and open-minded group of people. I truly look forward to working next to our people every day. I’m always floored at the talent and commitment of our team members and how they show up with joy, humility, and care.

And second, it’s my belief in iACT’s process. My belief in “how” we do our work. This is connected to our people and how we show up and it’s also about some of our core values. If our humanitarian response is personal, if we prioritize people and relationships first, and if we shift power and purpose to the affected people and communities, then in that process itself we have a positive impact and we demonstrate an alternative approach to humanitarian action.

What words do you use most often to describe iACT?

Listen, opportunity, relationships, trust, impactful, adaptable, joy, and hope.

In May we celebrate Mother’s Day, what does it mean to you as a new mother to take on this role with iACT?
A woman and man shaking hands with children watching in the background.
Sara-Christine RUSA Project Coordinator Souliman in eastern Chad.

Perhaps cliche, but a greater sense of responsibility. A responsibility to my daughter to show her what pursuing a passion looks like, and to open her mind to the experiences of millions of families around the world. A responsibility to other mothers that I bear witness, that I listen to them, and fight for their rights and the rights of their children to access education and play.

As a mom, seeing families caught in conflict, displaced by conflict, it just hits different. I imagine myself in their shoes, carrying my daughter for days and weeks to safety, and I imagine the type of support and care I would want to receive along the way. Above all, I would want to feel seen, heard, and included in responding to the needs of my family. And I would want my daughter to continue to experience joy and play no matter the circumstances.

Unfortunately, the drivers of displacement and the refugee crisis are not slowing down. The world continues to see more families caught in conflict, more people displaced. What do you see as essential for the future of humanitarian responses?

I see two things as essential and intertwined. One, a shift in the mindset of humanitarian actors from expert, savior, responder to ally, partner, and co-creator with the very people who are caught in humanitarian crises and displacement. iACT has long called for making humanitarian action personal. If you take the time to get to know people, build relationships, and see them as your friend and colleague, you move from “I’m here to help you and empower you” to “I’m here to partner and learn alongside you and support your leadership.” Don’t we all want our friends to feel seen, heard, and resourced to stand in their own power?

And two, a shift from pre-designed programs and services that are “culturally adapted” to a focus on scaling processes and frameworks. We have early childhood education and soccer programs, and they look different in every community. That’s because we scale processes, not programs. The processes we scale are building trust, listening, creating emotionally safe spaces, giving voice and choice, shifting power, and mutual collaboration. The result is a co-created and community-led program.

What else would you like to share with the iACT community?

To our community, thank you. Each of you plays an essential role in iACT and the impact we have. From 2005 to now, from the US to Chad to countries around the world, iACT is powered by and shaped by the generosity and action of each of you. While I may hold a formal title at iACT, I truly see myself more as a facilitator creating space and opportunity for many people to lead, take action, and create meaningful impact. So, I’ll end by sharing the words of our Refugees United Soccer Academy coaches supporting migrant and refugee children at the US-Mexico border: “Unidos Podemos!” Together we can. Let’s keep going.

A group of women smiling and posing for a picture outside a building, one holding up a curriculum booklet.
Sara-Christine with Little Ripples refugee teachers and education directors in eastern Chad.


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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