On the day before we were to get on a plane to the Central African Republic (CAR), we received an email from an expert on the armed conflict in the tiny, beautiful country. She told us to hold off and reassess our trip. She had received reliable information that there was a high risk of armed groups moving on the capital, Bangui. Just days before, there were reports of violence that killed more than a dozen people in CAR, in a region far from the capital. Well, nothing is that far from anywhere in CAR, but relatively speaking far from the capital. After more than a year of preparation for this trip, that was an “Oh, s_ _t!” moment.
Our California-based staff members huddled, and we took a breath. We then began to scan the news and social media and emailed our contacts in CAR. By the afternoon, the consensus was encapsulated by what one humanitarian worker in Bangui told us, “This is CAR. It is always high risk.” There could be an attack, and maybe not. It could be the next day, the next week, or the next month. There were no specific reports of armed groups’ movement towards the capital at the moment, so we decided to start our journey towards Bangui. It would take 37 hours and a few stops, so we could always hit “pause,” if we heard any bad news.
We made it to Bangui, and it was an inspiring and productive time working with CAR citizens that want a new future for their children, their communities, and their country.
With Katie-Jay and Felicia, our three-member team, supported by Jesuit Refugee Service staff, ran training sessions concurrently for teachers and prospective coaches in our Little Ripples (LR) and Refugees United Soccer Academy (Academy) models. We also had wonderful support from Sister Jacinthe, the head of the teachers association for the Catholic Church.