Mothers, fathers, and teachers have been telling me that they can only maintain hope because of the hope their children represent. While in the camps, they want their children to grow strong and educated, so that they can be the future of Darfur. They would tell me this back in 2005, during my first visit, and they still tell me this now, at the end of 2011, on my eleventh visit. How much longer will this hope last?
As the years go by, they are still here – most of them. Some, especially boys, give up on finding a future here, so they go in to
Darfur to look for a road that might be longer than the length of a refugee camp. For many, the road ends up being very short, since the insecurity and violence is worst for combatant-age boys and young men.
We spent only two days in camp Goz Amer, and I leave with so many mixed feelings. Our friendships and connections are stronger, but that means knowing more of their stories and caring more about them, their families, and their individual and collective hopes.
Next up is camp Djabal. I have deep friendships there, and many people in the U.S. have connected with and also care for many of the refugees from that camp. Again, mixed feelings. I can’t wait to see Rahma, Ali, Buseina, and others from that crew. It also pains me to go there knowing that — they are still there. These kids are bright, beautiful people that want so much out of life. What will happen if, or when, they find out that they can only dream, if they keep their dreams within the camp.
In Camp Goz Amer, young girls take care of younger siblings, when parents have to do other jobs and chores to provide for their families. The children also help with tasks.
Without preschools or daycares of any kind, many children are at risk, and their future is very limited, especially for the girls that many times go without education to take care of their younger brothers and sisters.
In this video, a little girl and her brother go collect water. The boy is very reluctant, given the strange man with the camera that just won’t go away!
For more information and opportunities to help the kids in the camps email email@example.com
Music by Dame Seck: jamendo.com/?en/?artist/?Dame_Seck
There are so many challenges and obstacles for the refugees to have full, healthy, and dignified lives. The obvious one, they should not be refugees. That status is to give them protection under international law, but it is also a limitation, with a horizon that is only as far as the camp’s boundaries.
There are also so many opportunities: the leader that will not give up; the child that wants to be an engineer; the teacher that wants to learn about human rights and then teach about human rights; the mother that works all day and makes sure her daughter goes to school; the aid worker that builds schools against many odds and fights to keep the kids coming; so many more.
We, the international community, have promised support and protection to populations displaced by violence. Have we lived up to that promise and responsibility?
For the last nine days, I’ve been going to refugee camps where an overwhelming percentage of them go without proper nutrition, especially the children–during crucial development years. But, I’m going to now whine about my diet during this trip. I can’t take it anymore.
For breakfast, at around 7:30am, I eat a granola bar (140 calories), a dry fruit bar (50 calories), and I drink some water (0 calories). I brought these tiny sugar-free Red Bulls (5 calories) because, well, I just need it. We then head to the camp. At the camp, we walk and carry heavy bags in pounding heat. I drink as much water as is practical.
At some point, we take a break and head to the camp restaurant and get ourselves a luke-warm soda (200 calories). Yes, Coke and Pepsi make it all the way out to a remote refugee camp in Eastern Chad. They don’t have diet soda in the camp, though. After the soda, back to work, doing what we have to do around the camp.
Feeling pretty exhausted, we head back to the village, where we stay at the UNHCR compound–a drive of about thirty minutes.
Back at the compound, after washing up and putting things away and checking e-mail, it’s already about 5:30pm and time to eat something, but I’m not excited about it. Today it was a bag of tuna (80 calories), some nuts (300 calories), and a little bag of spicy Corn Nuts (110 calories). I could not finish the bag of tuna. I’m pretty much fed up with all the bags of stuff I have. I’ve been out here for nine days.
Some of the kids in the camp have been here for over seven years. As with any group of people that has been in a place for a while, there are different economic classes in the camp. There are a few that can afford to pay for meat and some variety of vegetables and fruit. That said, for the average kid, he’s been eating the same food that is given out once a month as a part of their rations. Ask them what they miss from Darfur, and many will say milk, meat, fruit from their trees, and spices. You see lots of orange hair, a sign of malnutrition. A doctor I spoke with during a past visit told me that these rations keep them alive, but they are not meant to be a long-term diet.
After a few days out here, I start talking about what my first meal back will be. I’m thinking fish tacos, rice, beans, and guacamole. I’m not sure how much weight I’ve lost so far, but I am way, way under my usual intake of calories. While writing this, I lose concentration and have to restart a few times; my brain is not used to operating under such low energy. My total today, if you were not doing the math, is 885 calories. I go back home soon, and I go back to eating way, way more.