Our short stay in camp Goz Amer is over. We’ve made many new friends and explored the vibrant and diverse “town” they’ve built up from almost nothing. It’s that time of year in America when conspicuous consumption is an overemphasized way to show the love (for family and country.) What a gift it was to see a group of people with so little in the way of goods and capital able to live day to day with abundant love, creativity and hope. I hope we were able to convey a little of that energy to visitors of this site.
“All of these here, born here in the camp,” the camp leader told us, as we look at a group of wide-eyed kids. The others in the group, they were probably either in their mother’s womb or too young to remember Darfur. He also said that they do not have the resources to dedicate curriculum towards Darfur history in their schools, so that it’s up to the parents to pass on their culture, through stories and songs.
Today was our last visit to a camp during this trip, my ninth i-ACT Expedition to Eastern Chad since 2005. I’m excited to go back home to see my children, right in time for the holidays. I miss them and I worry about them, even though I know they are safe and well looked after. Sometimes I wonder if I bring too much of my “eyes of a father” to the camps. Do I have too high of expectations, seeing children from my own western perspective? Do I have the right expectation, or am I measuring the wrong way from the start? Should I wish for the little, beautiful girl with the black scarf around her neck the same things I wish for my son and daughter?
I am realistic enough to know that my little team and I do not have the power to bring immediate positive change to the tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, and millions of children in this region alone that deserve it. Here I am coming on my ninth trip, and I am seeing so many more children still with little hope to return to a peaceful home. It can become paralyzing. So I try not to think about it, and our team huddles to figure out what we can do–for that little, beautiful girl with the black scarf, and her family, friends, neighbors. We figure, what if our own families, friends, and neighbors are touched and also pitch in; then maybe we can help more!
You know, to hell with status quo expectations and looking at all the limits and what cannot be done. What CAN we do?
As I walk the camps, I always make sure that I look in to the eyes of a child, one specific child out of the dozens following us, so that I do connect with them, with my eyes of a father.
Here’s a short example of the type of conversations we have everyday in the camps. For many of the refugees like this woman, you only need to scratch the surface (or ask a simple question) to expose the heartache that their situation brings. It’s seven years into this crisis but their daily life in the limbo of a refugee camp is a constant reminder of what they’ve left behind.
“We have been waiting seven years for someone to ask that question, and you are the first to ask it,” a teacher told us, when I asked, “What would you like to tell people around the world about you, your life, and your people?” Someone else said, “You are our bridge.”
Camp Goz Amer is on the frontline here in Eastern Chad. Located about 60 miles from the Darfur border and right on the path of a major dirt highway, they have taken the initial brunt of a number of Chadian rebel runs in to the country, with some pretty major fighting happening in and around the camp. People have been killed and injured. This has happened to a population that has already experienced major trauma in their own country, seeing the attacks on their villages and having to escape, while leaving many behind friends and family and all their possessions.
The people of Camp Goz Amer, none-the-less, are welcoming and open — and even refreshingly honest and humble — when they tell us from the start, “We are very lucky. Luckier than any other of the refugee camps because we have natural resources around us and even a wadi (river) just outside of the camp.”
By visiting Goz Amer for the first time, I have now visited ten out of the twelve Darfuri camps in Eastern Chad. Goz Amer is very alive, with the well traveled road on the edge of the camp and with a very entrepreneurial spirit: people involved in small businesses and trade. But, the people also feel isolated and “abandoned,” as one camp leader put it. The six schools are extremely run-down, with the exception of having three new classroom rows, one for each pair of side-by-side set of schools. Besides those new constructions, most students still sit on old mats or right on the dirt during class, and some are not even inside one of the dilapidated classrooms and have to be under a tree or in shacks covered with sheeting.
It was a positive, warm and friendly first day at the camp. We are looking forward to meeting more of the people over the next two days, especially more of the young students that expressed great hope about being a part of the greater world, connected to more than what is inside their island camp.