“It’s only through interaction that we learn.” Oscar is an animated and charismatic individual, but that is not what struck me most about him, Delphine, and other HCR (in Chad the ‘UN’ is dropped and they are known as ‘Hache-C-R’) workers in N’Djamena. It was their desire to connect people, and to be connected to the people they are there to serve and a provide a life for.
Oscar’s statement strikes at the heart of i-ACTs mission. It is why we are here and continue to come. It is why we believe in the Darfur Dream Team Sister Schools Program. Through interactions we become part of another person’s life. We form mutually beneficial relationship, and we become a part of their community.
“It’s not just survival, but it’s about providing a right to a future. A fair chance.” Delphine, External Relations for UNHCR Chad, explained why she is in Chad, and works with the UN Refugee Agency. We also discussed how important connecting people from other sides of the world is so important. She too believes that by creating these personal relationships, we are empowering the youth to develop a life long commitment to promoting peace and avoiding war, ultimately reducing the number of people displaced because of violence.
It’s refreshing when we meet people who also believe so passionately in creating personal relationships. This expedition to Chad has so many potentials. As we get closer to reaching the camps, I feel more confident that this trip will be a successful one. And that we will be able to implement technology, and build relationships like never before.
Today was a bit of deja vu as we retuned to the UNHCR compound to get our filming permits. We made the best of our wait by interviewing three people working in different but interconnected offices. First we spoke with Delphine Marie who essentially works as the spokesperson for the UNHCR mission in Chad. She discussed some of the current problems and signs of progress in the eastern camps. Next we spoke with Oscar Nkulu about the challenges of bringing education to refugees. Lastly, we met we Andrea, an outspoken Italian who’s tackling the massive task of making the Chadian refugee camps more sustainable and less degrading to the environment.
You can see a bit of our talk with Delphine and Oscar in the above Video.
It was nice to see Yuen-Lin (YL) and Eric (E) live on our computers last night. We tested the three way communication using the equipment we’ll be using out in the refugee camps. It was quick and pretty simple. Out here, there’s no high speed internet. There’s no medium speed internet. There’s slow and slower. To be able get on a video conference with someone halfway across the world is, in reality, no simple task. Except that our tech team makes it easy for out here, even if we don’t exactly understand how they do it.
I remember when I first spoke with YL, using basic technology – a phone. He called me from Malaysia, where he was spending some time with his family. I told him how we wanted to come out to Eastern Chad, spend time in the camps with the refugees, and, oh by the way, we wanted to upload video from the middle of the desert, where there is no infrastructure at all. After hearing me, YL said, “Hmm…I see. It is not my area of expertise, but I will find a way to do it. I’m in.”
Back then, technology was not close to what we have right now, and it’s still quite a challenge to do what we do. We’re just lucky to have YL and E and our team.
Oh, I also have to thank VSee Lab, who provides the video conferencing software. It’s amazing that we can stream video through such low bandwidth! Thanks also to Eric Talman at SatellitePhoneStore.com, who has been great to work with for our satellite service. And, since I’m in thanking mode, thanks to the great team at the Darfur Dream Team office in DC! We are involved in a complex program, and they are managing so many parts of it, but it’s nothing but a pleasure to work together with them on this very basic concept, connecting people to people.
It’s definitely all about teamwork!
Most of our first full day in the capital was spent at the UNHCR (United Nations High Commission for Refugees) doing the paperwork necessary to travel through eastern Chad. After our driver picked us up at the hotel I got my first chance to see rush hour life in N’djamena. The streets were busier than I expected. Cars filled the roads and swarms of motorcycles filled any spaces between them, sometimes the bikes carried two or even three men apiece.
The first automatic rifle I saw came as a shock, not because it was being carried on a busy city street (post 9/11 New York is filled with such sights) but because of the casual style in which they were handled. Uniformed and plain-clothed men alike sling them around their necks like electric guitars or hold them across their shoulders and hang their hands off both ends.
We spent most our time at the UNHCR compound trading our passports back and fourth and discussing the educational situation in the camps we’ll be visiting. While there has been some progress in reducing class size and turning plastic sheeting classrooms into concrete and brick ones, there’s still a long way to go. Secondary school is particularly lacking and it’s one of the main reasons for our trip. The Sister School Program is helping build up the camp’s educational capacity one of the first steps in the project will be connecting classrooms in the camps with American schools using our CommKits. We’ll be showing the potential of this technology in coming expedition reports.
N’Djamena (NDJ), Chad is an interesting city, which has changed quite drastically over the last year. Many more streets are paved, and we could see many more lights when we arrived last night. New statues and plazas adorn the capital.
Today, fighting jetlag, we headed out early to visit the offices of UNHCR and the new Snr. External Relations Officer, Delphine. It is great to hear that NDJ has been relatively calm, given some of the turmoil its residents have seen in recent years.
We also met up with our old friend, Victorien. Victorien used to be based in Abeche. He is helping us with our permits, which is never an easy process.
At our hotel, we have a beautiful view of the river Chari and of Cameroon on the other side. There is also always four legged friends on the grounds, including lizards and huge turtles.
This is my ninth time flying to Paris. The Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, shopping and fine dining. Nope. Paris is just a necessary stop on our way to the capital of Chad, N’Djamena, and–eventually–the refugee camps in the East, along the Chad-Sudan border. In Paris, I only get to see the airport, which is pretty nice, by the way.
Nine times to the camps! It’s hard to believe. I really thought that the first trip, back in 2005, was going to be my only trip. It wasn’t imaginable to me, as a beginning activist, that the people we met way back then would still be living in those same camps, as we get ready to move in to 2011.
In reading about the displaced from Darfur living in camps (somewhere in the 3 million range), both inside their country and in neighboring Chad, I often hear the words “stable,” “non-emergency,” and “livable.” Of course, the people writing those reports do not live in the camps. Their children do not live in the camps. They make a quick stop and then go back to their very livable homes.
Those reports, in many ways, are right. The camps that we visit on the Chad-Darfur border have been life-saving since they started opening in 2003. The challenge encountered by the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) during those first months and years of the crisis were monumental, and the job they did was and is as close to miraculous as anything can get.
People in the hundreds of thousands poured in to the border area, to places that are the definition of remote. Think of the logistics of moving food and shelter, providing water and health care, and creating tent cities in the middle of the desert. Refugees have told us that they felt like in a dream, when they saw the tents and found out that someone cared about them.
The refugees are now about to begin their eighth year living in those camps. Generations of children are growing up not knowing their homes and not learning the skills that have allowed Darfuris to live in an area of the world that can be unforgiving and difficult. This kind of stability is not necessarily a good thing. To the parents of the children, it is an emergency situation and one they wish to get out of.
All I hear is that they are grateful for the care they receive in the camps, for the organizations and the people that work to keep them protected, for the world sending grain, sugar, and oil. They also say that they would go home immediately, if it was safe.
It is complex, but it is also simple. The camps have offered refuge to millions. Every person has a right and a longing for home.
Maybe someday I’ll get to see more than the airport in Paris. But, I go on these journeys, and then I get to go back to my very livable home.