Dates: May 21 – June 10, 2012
Locations: Djabal, Eastern Chad & Iraqi Kurdistan
i-ACT’s primary focus will be following Darfur United – an all-refugee soccer team set to compete in the 2012 Viva World Cup in Iraqi Kurdistan. The story of Darfur United is a living documentary being told via social media.
We Are Up, Up and Away—Someone Pinch Us Please
by Gabriel Stauring, i-ACT
Somehow, the driver that took us to a ten minute meeting left and did not come back for forty-five. It was now less than two hours before departure for us and a team of refugees, all of them carrying temporary travel documents on their very first international flight. It was now, again, nervous time.
After about eight confusing phone calls, I was told that the driver was on his way to take us back to the UNHCR office, and we would then leave from there with the team. Not good. That could easily mean another forty five minutes. Instead, I suggested they grab the guys and meet us at the airport.
At the airport, it was slow going to get the boarding passes for everyone, but we were moving, and it was feeling not real. This is happening! READ MORE
Sound Off: Sulieman Reflects on the Journey
Sulieman, a natural leader on and off the field, reflects on the true meaning behind Darfur United and the impact of the previous eight weeks of training. The team is more than 16 people playing football (soccer), it is a family that has united camps, tribes, and cultures.
A View From the Hospital
by Alex Nuttall-Smith, DU Medical Trainer
The first Viva World Cup match for Darfur United is tomorrow. I can sense the mounting excitement among the Darfur United players and coaches.
We have settled quickly, after only two days, into a routine of practices, team meals, and medical treatments. The tournament organizers, hotel, and Kurdistan fans (who line up the watch practices) have shown the greatest hospitality toward Darfur United.
My hotel room has been labeled by the players as “the hospital.” After team meals and meetings, the players line up in my room for treatment. READ MORE
Exhausting. Up at 3:30am and out at the camp by 5. The players were all already up and getting ready for the trip to N’Djamena, for sure the farthest any of them have been from home.
Two players, Mohamed and Mohamed, had to leave earlier than the others because we could not all fit into one plane. They were nervous and talked to me, wanting to know why they were not traveling with the team. I explained and assured them everything would be alright. The older Mohamed thanked me and said that they wanted to talk with me because they could trust me. They feared that they were being sent home and would not be with the team on the journey. My only worry was that they would not be flying straight to the capital but would be making a stop in the scary Abeche airport. I’ve been through that airport dozens of times, and I still stress every time because it is crowded and pushy and a bit unhinged. It’s one of a kind.
As soon as they landed in Abeche…. Read more here.
My very first trip to the refugee camps in eastern Chad was in January 2008. There was one particular woman I knew I had to meet. Her name is Fatna and she lives in Camp Farchana. I had first met her through Stacey and Cany, two i-ACT team members who had previously visited the camps and connected to the same woman.
Like many mothers around the world, Fatna cares deeply for her children. But unlike so many women, her eyes tell of the suffering she has felt since the day she fled her burning village.
She was walking with her husband in the market very early in the morning. First came the airplanes that dropped bombs. Then Arab tribesmen riding horses and in the backs of pick-up trucks rode into town and killed her husband in front her. Gunfire was coming from planes in the sky, and the Janjaweed chased her through the burning homes. There was not time to bury him or the 60 others from her village who were killed. She barely had enough time to retrieve her children before fleeing.
Fatna walked 20 days with her seven children with no food, no water, nothing. They walked at night, stopping only to make a small fire to warm up from the harsh chill. They hid from the militia during the day. Attacks from above and bullets from the surrounding area chased her across the border into neighboring Chad.
This morning I found out that Ismail, our back-up goalkeeper for Darfur United, is her Ismail, whom I met five years ago in Camp Farchana. I often think of Fatna and wonder how her children are. Are they all safe? Is she she still struggling? Have her older boys returned to Darfur or did they remain in the camps?
It fills my heart with pride and my eyes with tears of joy to know that Ismail has this opportunity, which must mean so much to his mother and their entire camp and tribe.
Ismail in 2008.
After meeting his long time friend Adam’s new twins, Gabriel and Katie, Gabriel reflects on friendship and the dream of a future peaceful Darfur. Adam will travel with the team as a translator and mentor for the players.
Gabriel and James have arrived in Chad and are making their way to the east, where they will reunited with the Darfur United players who have spent the last 8 weeks eating, sleeping, and training together!
I’m somewhere high over the Atlantic, on my way to Chad via Paris. It’s my thirteenth such trip, the first one being in 2005, which seems a lifetime away. I’ve been staring at a blank document for over an hour, not knowing what to say. It feels like I’ve said it all—too many times.
Sudan is spiraling out of control into what could be the bloodiest African war of the decade. For Darfuris, another year has gone by, and millions remain displaced with little to no hope for a better future anywhere on the horizon. I’ve said something similar to this on each of my previous twelve trips.
This trip is different.
N’DJAMENA (NDJ) AIRPORT
I have four big duffle bags, filled right up to the weight limit, something we’ve become experts at doing. They have all the travel gear for our players, plus my food, clothes, and tech gear. Everything arrived at the NDJ airport, and I’m feeling well. The feeling did not last long, as we try to make it out of the customs area…