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Smiling Through it All

In an environment of constant trauma, smiles are priceless.

In an environment of constant trauma, smiles are priceless. Photo: Sara-Christine/i-ACT

The children are so small and frail standing next to me in their dirty, tattered clothes. I stand under the late afternoon sun on the sandy field, watching the top 21 Darfur United players train. Every once in a while I feel a little bit of my hair get tugged or brushed. I turn and smile. They giggle and persist. After several minutes, I decided to turn around, bend my head down, making my hair abundantly available and in their reach. A swarm of children begin to touch my hair. Surprisingly they are all gentle, giggling and touching with ambivalence. I don’t find it that strange. In fact they remind me of my four year old niece, Charlee, who since the age of two has been obsessed with brushing and playing with my hair. That is perhaps what makes it the most difficult to be around these children. These children, who are just like my niece in so many ways. Yet they have been born in a refugee camp. An environment that continues to experience trauma from displacement, loss, instability and lack of resources. So much so that many are visibly under-nourished. The effects of which we know are irreversible.  I can’t communicate with the children (bucket list: learn Arabic), but to be able to interact with them in