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i-ACT21: On our way to launch Ponds!

The i-ACT team is on its way to eastern Chad to visit Little Ripples in refugee camp Goz Amer. This trip is all about launching Little Ripples Ponds.

More than three years ago, we embarked on co-creating a preschool program with the Darfur refugees. We built a school, enlisted experts in trauma, early childhood education, behavior management, and health and hygiene, and launched the Little Ripples school. The results have been fantastic! Just check out this video:

However, as the humanitarian support dwindled in eastern Chad, we knew there was no way to scale up and serve all 8,000 children we wanted to reach by building costly schools. We had to think differently! After a long day in the camp, Gabriel, i-ACT‘s Executive Director, thought out loud, “What if we create in-home centers for Little Ripples classes?” And so, phase two of our preschool program was launched.

To help with revamping homes in camp Goz Amer to be suitable Little Ripples Ponds (and to help design a Darfur United Soccer Academy clubhouse), a new team member has joined the trip: Tobias Kusian. Learn more about Tobias through his first blog for i-ACT:

“We were building a camp. They were building a city.“

NDJ vanBy Tobias Kusian

Being in the hotel doesn’t feel actually like being in Chad. It’s more like a Western standardized island that landed accidentally in the city. It doesn’t match with the things which it is surrounded by. I opened the window of my room just to feel a little connected to the city. In the distance, a call to prayer of a muezzin from a mosque can be heard.

The last two days I enjoyed the drives in the car across the city. I was fascinated by the street life. The areas beside the streets seem to be magnetic for people and all kinds of shops and market stalls. I like the creative potential of the people that seems to lay in the fact that many parts of the city don’t consist of ready made structures. Rather, the people had to take the initiative and came up with their own ideas how to set up own market stalls, turn small houses beside the street into shops, and create areas to meet up. I remember a merchant standing under a tree selling bags. To present his goods he hung his bags with strings in the tree like christmas balls on a christmas tree.

Since we are back – from our last drive – at our strange appearing but safe island we are staying inside the hotel and waiting for our permits. At least this is giving me the opportunity to write my first blog and introduce myself. Coming from Germany and being on my first mission with i-ACT I have met only three yet wonderful members of i-ACT in person so far. I first got to know Gabriel when I started my research on urbanization of refugee camps for my diploma thesis in architecture. He was interested in my research. I was inspired by the work of i-ACT. Long story short, I became a member of i-ACT. And now I am on board with i-ACT21 hopefully departing soon from our insular (isolated ?) hotel and heading for the refugee camps in the east of Chad. I will work with Gabriel on the launch of the first three Little Ripples Ponds in Goz Amer and on the set-up of the Darfur United Soccer Academy clubhouse in Djabal.

Besides working on these projects I will also do some research for my diploma thesis which deals with the permanent non-permanence of refugee camps. Refugee camps are commonly thought of as temporary emergency situations. But when the exception becomes the rule the well-arranged camp with its strict pattern of tents is turned into a complex maze of improvised houses, shops, and other facilities traversed by roads and small marketplaces. The refugees show high potential as city developers when adapting the camps within their means and according to their needs. The fact of camp urbanization becoming a permanent condition has not been adequately taken into account in the planning guidelines for refugee camps. This causes problems and increases the subsequent needs of organizations like i-ACT who are positively influencing the urbanization process by planting seeds.

For my diploma thesis I want to discover how to set up a frame within the planning of refugee camps which empowers the refugees as city developers and allows self determination of how a dignified livelihood should look like.

I am looking forward to visiting the camps hopefully in the next few days. Let’s see tomorrow what the day holds.

An old UNHCR worker told me once about his experience with camp urbanization “We were building a camp. They were building a city. We were building a storage facility for people. They were developing a living space.“

Thanks for reading.

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