i-ACT first met Djabal’s librarian in January 2008. Gabriel was filming in a classroom and he asked if there were any students who wanted to sing a song. Rahma’s hand shot up in the air. He first sang his version of B-I-N-G-O, and his second number had a little dance. In this video Rahma shares his story, and you can even watch him sing and dance:
Year after year we have returned to Camp Djabal and watched Rahma grow. He has graduated from Primary School (through Level 8 in his refugee camp), and takes what classes are available for Secondary school. He still wants to be President of Sudan, but is also interested in being a Journalist. Upon learning that he was selected to be the Right to Education Mobile Human Rights Librarian, he shared his thoughts and gratitude:
Rahma took great pride in being the R2E Librarian. We were all saddened to hear that this hut had burned, and all his possessions and the library destroyed. We received this video in December 2012.
The refugee community came together to help rebuild Rahma’s hut, and several individuals and communities in the U.S. have given to help him replace his personal belongings. Most recently, on January 29, Human Rights Watch Student Task Force chapter at Wildwood School in Los Angeles launched a Change for Change drive to raise enough funds to replace the entire Djabal R2E Library. i-ACT and all the refugees in Camp Djabal are very grateful for their efforts and we look forward to learning who the winning class will be!
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
About fifteen minutes before it’s time to start our drive from Kou Kou to Goz Beida, by pure luck I happen to see a tweet in French:
— Ndjamena-matin (@Ndoune) January 17, 2013
Part of what it said, according to google-translate, was:
According to our respondents, thirty tanks and several pickup belonging to Deby’s troops arrived in the area of Goz Beida in eastern Chad. The situation remains unclear in this locality are rumors of renewed fighting between the army and the forces of national liberation Chad.
The resumption of fighting is almost imminent in Chad.
A little worrying. It’s been a while since there’s been major fighting in Chad. It used to be a regular occurrence. For the first three years since I started coming out in 2005, it was part of the Chad experience, knowing that Chadian rebels could cross the border at any time and start taking villages up and down the east of the country — and even go for N’Djamena. We were stuck in some tight situations!
It has calmed down drastically since 2009, so it was a surprise to read the little blog post about troop movements and “imminent” fighting in Chad. I talked with some from our group and then with UNHCR staff. There was no mention of fighting in Chad in any major or even minor news source, and UNHCR believed it was routine troop movement, so on we went to Goz Beida.
We were in a big convoy with an armed escort, a Toyota truck with four soldiers hanging on in the back, leading the way. After rainy season, the bumpy road made for a slow drive, but we had great conversations and saw beautiful people, blue birds, goofy camels, and large fields of sorghum. There are also many striking looking trees with red trunks. A driver told us that they are the ones from which gum arabica is taken. Gum arabica is a main ingredient in Coca-Cola, Coke!
We made it to Goz Beida in an hour and forty-five minutes. I’ve made that same drive in less than forty-five. We soon had to go present ourselves to the region’s governor. That was a good sign, to know that he was still there, since they are the first ones to usually flee, if fighting is coming. We met with him, and he welcomed us to the region and talked about the history of humanitarian operations in Chad and particularly in Goz Beida. It was all in French, so my mind drifted at times, but I got a sense for what he was saying.
It’s a short drive from Goz Beida to Camp Djabal. We arrived at one of the schools, where a couple dozen teachers were waiting for us. It was nice to see my friend Abdulaziz along with so many other familiar faces. It was a good meeting, where the teachers talked about the challenges related to education in the camp. They stressed how important preschools were to them, and they also talked repeatedly about the lack of opportunity to move on to a University, “Not one refugee has graduated from a university in the last nine year!”
From there we moved to the secondary school and got to listen to students. There is an almost palpable sense of frustration, of being stuck with no chance to continue growing. Students read from speeches they had written. They all said that their current education is lacking in so many areas and that they have nowhere to go after high school. In one of these classrooms I found Rahma and Murtada, and they talked, looking and sounding serious and formal. But, the Rahma smile would flash through now and then, when I would look at him.
Visiting Rahma’s home is alway fun. His siblings and extended family welcome us warmly and with big smiles. It was sad to see where Rahma’s hut used to be. It burnt down in December, and he lost all of his possessions. Also lost was the mobile library that he takes around the schools. On this trip, we brought some replacement Kindles and talking dictionaries, but so much more was lost. The Human Rights Watch Student Task Force is working on replacing all the material. Rahma was so happy that I’olani School in Hawaii sent him support, including t-shirts, maps, and more. He sends his thanks to HRW STF, ‘Iolani, and everyone that has helped. He said, “They are my best friends!”
We then went to visit Guisma’s home, and I won’t write too much about them because I’ll later do a separate post about this beautiful family. It was sad to see the children look thinner and all wearing the same clothes they had on during my last visit in December. Their mom Achta also looked thin and even sad. The loss of her mother hit her hard, and life has been difficult without her husband Adef being around. The seven-month-old baby, Abdulai, was the one that did look healthy and so, so happy. He makes eye contact and engages, smiles and laughs. He is still breastfeeding, and that makes all the difference.
There are so many needs, and it can all feel overwhelming, but there are also so many opportunities. We have to go at it and be creative and…do!
We left Los Angeles on Monday. It feels so long ago, and the distance even longer. It is now Friday night, and I am back in eastern Chad in a little village called Goz Beida. I have lost count of how many times I’ve been here. It’s as remote as it can get, and the only reason anyone comes out here is to visit refugees. I do sometimes have those moments of, “How did I get here?”
Meeting up with Rahma is always special. I know that I will be somehow connected to him for the rest of my life. Anyone that has met him, even just through video, can see how special he is. He is far from perfect, like anyone of us, but he is full of curiosity and charisma that tends to make even his flaws look good. He wants to grow and explore, and he will not settle.
Rahma tells me that some refugees have been going to some place, I’m not sure where, that is believe to have gold. I ask him, “Is there gold?” He shakes his head in his very Rahma-confident way, “No. Very little.” Rahma is wiser than many older and more educated men around him. But he’s also young and playful, with the greatest sense of humor.
When I’m walking around with Rahma and friends, then I know how I got here. It makes sense. I have to be here. I feel the same with Guisma, Adam, Umda, Yakoub, Buseina, and so many more. I do miss my family, and it hurts to be away for weeks. I wish there was a way to be over here but never leave home.
Hello my friends Student Task Force,
How are you doing? How is your schools going? Here are videos of students studying in library. Really they use the library by good way. but we missed kindles. I hope that you will bring us kindles to support our library so as to make our job better.
Thanks. Yours, Rahma
Here is a great exchange between Rahma and students at Burbank High School!
Hello my friends Task Force students, Here is another video I want show you haw I am using the Kindle but we need kindle will include many another programs. Thanks yours Rahma
HOW COOL! Some students at Burbank High School use the Kindle, too. I think they are so useful and fun! How do you like it so far? Do you think that the Kindle is better than a regular book? Also, some people think regular books will disappear and the Kindle and similar e-books will replace them. What do you think?
Happily, Burbank High School
Hi my best friends at BurbankHighSchool How are you? And how is your Schools going? Thank you for your message and thank you for your support. Really I think that the Kindle is better than regular books because Kindle has many informations than regular books and I think they are not similar books. Maybe Kindle better and Kindle will include many informations. Thank you yours Rahma