I eat so much. Every day. It’s strange: I think about food so much, and at the same time–I take it for granted. It’s always there, always available. In all of my now long(ish) life, I’ve never had to worry about food. Even when growing up in Mexico, where it was only my Mom with six children and a relatively low income, I never once worried about my next meal. On the contrary, I remember great meals: meats, rice and beans, tortillas, all kinds of fruits and vegetables.
I don’t think I really thought about hunger in any significant way until I started going to the Darfuri refugee camps in Eastern Chad in 2005. Just about everyone I met there had experienced hunger first hand. Many had seen friends and family die from hunger and lack of water, as they walked across the desert escaping the destruction of their village.
I’m now thinking of hunger. I’m hungry, and it’s ridiculous. It’s only noon on day 1 of the 3 days I will be fasting. But I’m so used to just reaching for food at any time! Usually, soon after breakfast, we start to talk about what lunch might be…and then dinner. Plus there’s always snacks in-between, and a late-night one at the end!
It’s now 10 years since the Darfur crisis exploded. The “lucky” Darfuris made it to internally displaced persons (IDP) or refugee camps, where they live off of handouts. Malnutrition can be seen, brightly, on the children in the camps. The orange hair is a clear sign of it. I am hungry right now and will be hungrier the next couple of days, but I know I have food, and more importantly, I know that my children will never worry about whether their next meal will be there or not.
OK, more water for now. At midnight of day 3, I’ll have some good food in front of me. I’m already thinking of what that meal might be.
PS. Join me and many others during the 100 Day Fast for Darfur. Sign up here!
Pam Omidyar, Founder of Humanity United, traveled to Eastern Chad with i-ACT’s Director, Gabriel Stauring, to visit Darfuri refugees and talk about education and more. She met up with Rahma, and she has a message for ‘Iolani School in Hawaii.
For more on the preschool program Pam, i-ACT, and the refugees are working on, visit: littleripples.org
There is a big moon over Eastern Chad tonight. It’s beautiful, but it also gives so much light that you can’t see too many stars. They often fill the entire sky, with the Milky Way’s heavy brushstroke from one horizon to another. Back home in Los Angeles, that sky does not exist.
We are back in the little town of Goz Beida, and we only have one more visit to camp Djabal, and then we start our journey home. Yesterday was a travel day, with the usual “hurry up and wait” routine that is the norm here. It was a quick little jump from Kou Kou’s dirt runway to Goz Beida’s dirt runway. The South African co-pilot of the flight looked tired but still with a sense of humor. He could not think of where we were flying to until someone whispered “Goz Beida,” but he then said, “Don’t be surprised if we end up in Cape Town.” To finish his pre-flight instructions he said, “Let’s go home.”
We got to town at three, but we were still able to get a car and head to Djabal for a short visit. We arrived to watch a foot race between a number of women and girls at the soccer field. They run in their normal dresses and scarves, but they can still fly. The finish line was a wall of people into which the runners would pretty much slam.
I said goodbye to everyone in Goz Amer yesterday, and next it’s goodbye’s to Djabal. This time, though, I’ll be coming back a lot sooner and more often, and my refugee friends know that I will. In the camps, everything moves at a different pace. They have a different sense of time, but I notice more and more an urgency of wanting to break lose and be able to dream of moving in a space and time outside of the refugee camps and leave that label, refugee, behind.
Let’s go home.
If I asked you to name the only two countries in the world that have not ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child, what countries would you name? If you want to first do a quick read, even just skimming, of the fifty-four articles in this document of the United Nations, maybe that might help. You’ll find that it talks about very basic right, recognizing that “the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world.”
The answer: Somalia and the United States of America.
Yes, the USA is in the company of a failed state on this issue. I am sure that there are complex political issues that I might not fully comprehend. But, somehow, all other countries on earth were able to work through their own challenges to recognize the special rights that children have.
We have seen over and over again that words written on paper do not translate to action and real life. Children’s rights are abused in every country, and especially sad is to see how the most vulnerable of the vulnerable are the greatest victims when it comes to war. The official recognition of basic human rights is, though, an important first step.
I am now on my 14th trip to Darfuri refugee camps in Eastern Chad. When I see the thousands of kids in the camps, I think of my own children and how expectations and standards are so different for each–and all by luck of birth. I will be out here for two weeks, and I’m sad that I will be away from my new baby girl, wondering how much bigger she will be and how many new things she’ll be doing. As I get ready to visit camp Djabal again, having last been there in June, I worry whether some of the babies I met will still be alive!
Today, November 20th, is Universal Children’s Day. To celebrate, please give your kids hugs and take them out for a treat and to have fun. To celebrate some more, please ask President Obama to push through the ratification of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Last year’s rainy season was rather dry. Crops failed and many families were unable to supplement the food they receive from the World Food Program (WFP) with fresh vegetables. This year, however, the rains are falling. Here is a message and photos from Umda Tarbosh in Camp Goz Amer:
Hello Dear Friends all over there: how are you? It is long time to send messages that we had a cut of communication and now it seem to be ok. Our rainy season, it is very good indeed. It is raining every day but the fear we have these days [is] the valley has flooded up to the camp goz amer and now the large amount of water [is] inside the schools. On its way to the inside [of] the camp, so we are doing hard to stop the water. You can see the pictures.
The rain here is very hard that some time we be indoor for two days, and as I said our challenge now is floods. I wish the water can go quickly down. Here are some of our areas which have been victimed by flows.
It is the floods in our camp which forced several people to leave their houses. It [is] inside the camp on north side.
It was a very hard day.
This is a school yard.
In the flooding, even the local people here they said that water like this, it was before fiftey years ago. One old man told me that when he was a child of fifteen.
A young Darfuri refugee in eastern Chad named Hafsa was given a camera to document any part of her life. She chose to be interviewed with her family.