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Smiling Through it All

Editor’s note: This was originally posted on iactivism.org by Project Coordinator Sara-Christine Dallain.


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 any way that will allow them to explore their curiosity and smile, even for a short time, however cliche, is the best feeling. 

I believe in displaying a positive demeanor, in smiling, in laughing, in humor, and play. So I try to stay true to that in the camps. But internally, I’m struggling. I’m sad, I’m mad, I feel helpless and embarrassed. I’m constantly battling with the fact that I get to come and go, while our friends, these children, these families, remain in these camps, struggling to eat everyday. Mothers not being able to feed their children. Can you imagine!? Its frustrating to even write about. I don’t feel I have capacity to convey how I feel or to do justice to their situation and their humanity in a blog post. 

I’ll see those children again next week. I’m sure they’ll join me again in watching the Darfur United players train. Tomorrow, I’ll be spending time with other children. The children who attend our Little Ripples program, in refugee camp Goz Amir. We’ll be conducting a one-year assessment of Little Ripples, again measuring the physical and socio-emotional health of children. 

For Darfur United, we still have some challenges ahead of us in getting the team to Sweden. But we’re sticking to these challenges with fierce, unfaltering determination. Watching the team play in Sweden will be a huge accomplishment, and will be a huge opportunity to shine the light on the devastating situation of the refugees and of the children here in eastern Chad. 

Good night from Kou Kou.  

Little Ripples is creating spaces where children can thrive, physically and emotionally. Support our mindfulness work.

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Sara-Christine Dallain

Sara-Christine Dallain holds a B.A. in Political Science from the University of Hawaii at Manoa and a Masters in Public Health from the University of California, Los Angeles. Through her previous work with Direct Relief; Réseau Africain d’Education pour la Santé (RAES) in Senegal, Africa; and Board Member of Chad Relief Foundation; Dallain brings on-the-ground insight and experience in program design, evaluation, and implementation for health and education projects in sub-Saharan Africa. As i-ACT Director of Programs, she manages the development, implementation, and evaluation of i-ACT programs in refugee camps, serves as the organization’s primary grant writer, contributes greatly to social media and marketing content, collaborates with and oversees program volunteers, and supports i-ACT development and fundraising initiatives. Dallain has been working in both southern and eastern Chad refugee camps since 2011, and is one of the staff members regularly traveling to eastern Chad refugee camps and global conferences.


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