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This Is Our Life

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So many mixed feelings. It’s a joy to see old friends, and I feel happy that we’re able to come out here and work next to the refugee community on projects that I truly believe are making a difference. But it is crushing to see the challenges they face and how hope is being not so slowly put to sleep.

Yesterday, we drove from Goz Beida to Kou Kou. The road is now magnificent—for eastern Chad standards. What used to take one hour and a half now took only forty minutes, and it was not extremely bumpy. What it was is dusty. The road is made of a dark orange clay like dirt, and this dirt was flying, as we followed a lead armed escort. With the windows open because of the heat and lack of air-conditioning, we and all of our belongings were bathed in a thick layer of orange. We made it to Kou Kou, though, and we got to visit camp Goz Amer today.

Like in Djabal, we now have many close friends in Goz Amer. I still remember how some years ago, on our first visit, the refugees were surprised that we would visit their camp, and they didn’t really believe we’d be back. That was many visits ago. We are now doing teacher training #3 for Little Ripples. The young women teachers are remarkable in how they absorb information and then adapt it and make it their own. They are growing as teachers, but they are facing many difficulties as mothers, daughters, and sisters. Food rations are being cut drastically in the camps, and there is no strategically doable plan for them to become self-reliant from one day to the next.

Meeting Umda is on the “joy” side of the list of mixed feelings. He’s a friend for life and a partner in our mutual passions for peace. He has unmatchable insight, and I always wish I could spend more time talking with him. He has not lost all hope. He is honest in that he knows that he has it better than many refugees because he is resourceful and has a job, but he sincerely worries about the less fortunate in the camp and goes out and meets with people all around the camp to figure out ways for them do more than just barely survive. When I ask him, “What can we do?” his response was, “All we have is education.”

With all the world’s attention — and with it the funding – being diverted to other newer crises, Darfur has long been forgotten. After ten years in the camps and little to no work on building resilience and tools of self-reliance, the refugees are now being confronted with the news that they are rapidly moving to being on their own. The first steps have been painful, including large cuts in food rations, medical services and medicine, education support and teachers salaries, and the stopping of most non-essential support.

I arrive at the camps and receive hugs, laughter, and smiles. They ask about my family members, each by name. I hear their stories and their struggles, and they tell me, “This is our life,” and it is impossible for me to really understand what that means.

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gabriel

Gabriel co-founded Stop Genocide Now in 2005, which gave birth to i-ACT in 2009. He became involved in the situation in Darfur out of a sense of personal responsibility. He believes the power of community and compassion, combined with personal empowerment, can bring about meaningful change.

 

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