On Wednesday April 17, i-ACT set up Camp Darfur at Brentwood School in Los Angeles, CA. Students from Martha Kermott’s sophomore class hosted each tent and the Little Ripples information table. During each period teachers of the Upper School visited the tents and learned from their peers about mass atrocities and genocide. Dr. Mike Riera, Head of School, wrote the following email to the entire Brentwood School community about the experience.
Letter of the Week: Unexpected Opportunity
by Dr. Mike Riera, Head of School
On Wednesday, I spent some time at the sophomore History Project: Darfur Refugee Camps. I circulated through the tents representing five different instances of genocide: Armenia, Holocaust, Cambodia, Rwanda, and Sudan. (See the article in Teaching and Learning for a more thorough description of the installation.) Listening to the presentations, viewing photos, and talking to our students moved me in a myriad of ways—anger, despair, sadness, shock, guilt, and outrage, just to name a few. There was a lot to take in.
The variety of these strong feelings permeated the inside of each tent. As students entered to hear the presentations, I watched their body language change from the typical adolescent stride to a retracted walk often seen when people enter a spiritual place. There was a kind of anxious reverence. When they exited the tents, their adolescent walk was slow to resume. As one would hope, their feelings and questions lingered, and it showed.
As I paid attention to students describing the various genocides, I heard a vulnerable and humbled quality in all of their voices. Whether they were describing the event or reading a first hand account, all were visibly shaken by what they were saying. Just as powerful were the reactions to the photos hanging on the walls—images of people who had lived and died in the various camps. The power of the material quite simply cut through the typical adolescent defenses and self-consciousness.
Over the course of the day I spoke with students about their various responses to Camp Darfur. They were quite similar to my own. More impressive, however, was how articulate they were in how they related these experiences to the human condition, power and influence, leadership, group think, and a myriad of other nuanced emotions and concepts. They were maturing right in front of me.
When people ask me what is special about Brentwood, besides the outstanding academics and teachers, I frequently cite the additional focus on the development of emotional intelligence. In my mind, Camp Darfur is one of those clear-cut examples of emotional education in process.
In their groundbreaking 1990 article, Emotional Intelligence, Peter Salovey and John D. Mayer defined emotional intelligence as “the subset of social intelligence that involves the ability to monitor one’s own and others’ feelings and emotions, to discriminate among them and to use this information to guide one’s thinking and actions.” These skills were on display during Camp Darfur. From presenters self-monitoring their content based on peer responses; to students ability, upon reflection, to identify their various and subtle emotions; all the way to using this information to refine and deepen their attitudes on a host of issues, including their own identities. It was profound to see this emotional growth-spurt in action.
Emotional intelligence is not a subject like math or Spanish, rather it frequently exists in the spaces between content. It can be mined and brought into the light of day for clarity or it can be left to go unnoticed and ignored. At Brentwood this aspect of learning is intentionally mined for all its potential, like what happened earlier this week at Camp Darfur.
Have a great weekend.
Thank you Brentwood School and Martha for partnering with i-ACT year after year to raise awareness and funds for Darfuri-led projects in the refugee camps on the Chad-Sudan border.
As the new school year begins across the United States and in the Darfur refugee camps in Eastern Chad, our i-ACT team is busy revamping and launching new programs!
Partnership with Darfur Dream Team Sister Schools Program
|This year i-ACT and the Darfur Dream Team will be partnering to develop new resources that teachers, schools, and clubs can use to educate their communities while continuing to fundraise for primary school education in refugee camps Djabal and Goz Amer. Currently there are over 325 schools supporting twelve refugee schools. The U.S. students and teachers use pazocalo.org to develop deep and meaningful relationships with their peers in the camps.|
|Little Ripples, i-ACT’s early childhood education program, is really lifting off the ground! Alongside basic cognitive development, the program will focus on peace-building and compassion. We hope to launch the pilot phase in early 2013 for 400 students in Camp Goz Amer. In the meantime, we will conduct a baseline study, start construction, and begin outreach to potential teachers. Our team of mostly volunteers has created a solid curriculum and continues to look at models and resources for inspiration. Download this presentation or visit the Little Ripples webpage to find out more.|
|After an extremely busy Spring which saw the first ever Darfur United goal at the Viva World Cup for nationless people, our players have returned to their camps. Our next step is establishing the Darfur United Academy. Many of the original team players have started to teach their peers and younger players what they learned from Coaches Mark, Ben, and Brian. Check out the Darfur United Academy overview and ways to support it! Additionally, we have limited edition ‘M Haggar’ jerseys to honor the goal scorer – get yours today!|
Right to Education Mobile Human Rights Library
|The R2E library took a break from rotating between schools over the summer, which is the rainy season in Chad. Rahma and Umda Tarbosh will continue to tour the library between schools once school resumes in October for at least a year. We are looking for schools, libraries, and other groups to help keep the library running and to bring more Kindles to the camps. Please contact Katie-Jay at email@example.com if you are interested!|
If you are interested in getting involved in any of our projects, please contact us. Email Katie-Jay at firstname.lastname@example.org. Our team of global volunteers is always looking for more dedicated members!
Teacher Abdulaziz is excited about the R2E Library and is going in to high gear to help us find the right librarian. He said that this program is very important, so the person that will manage it at the camp has to be good. We agreed that the number one trait for the librarian has to be responsibility. The librarian will have to commit to working at the schools every school day in collaboration with the teachers. He or she will be taking care of equipment and material that needs to stay in good conditions, and this is no small task in dusty, windy, hot camp Djabal. The librarian must also speak English, since the library is to teach about human rights and English. Being good, kind, and patient with kids is also a must. Abdulaziz told me that he will have five candidates for us to consider tomorrow. I’m looking forward to it!
Have you ever had that feeling of being trapped by life? Being in a situation and it seems like no place to go? For most of my life I have always had this feeling of being trapped. I could be in a room full of people, in a conversation, a job, a city, or whatever it may be. This overwhelming feeling of being stuck in life without any options overcomes me. During such times, it’s difficult to see a vision for myself, or ways out of complicated situations. I know this feeling is all in my head.
Right now, however, for millions of Darfuri refugees (and internally displaced) there is a reality of being trapped, being held in an open prison. These Darfuri refugees live in camps with no walls, yet most are powerless to leave. As one camp teacher described it today, it is an open prison.
Most people have no ability to leave and have been in these camps, a few square kilometers, for eight years. Those who can leave, do so by risking their lives as they head back into Darfur.
Another major problem described by the teacher today, was the fact when the kids finish secondary school, they have no place to go. The local government does not recognize their high school degree, nor can they return back to Darfur. They are forever held in an open prison with very few options. They can work farming for three months a year and that is about it. It’s no wonder why so many ask at a young age, ‘what’s the point to secondary school?’
It’s a honor to be out here working with the partners we have on these school programs. Along with Darfur Dream Team, we are working on solutions and we appreciate all of your support. Thank you.
I have never been to Africa.
Yet what I have seen of it I will never forget.
A few months ago, I joined the i-ACT team to help manage the many hours of documentary footage the team has shot on trips to the refugee camps in Chad. I’m not sure what I expected to see when I clicked the first video clip to begin this adventure. There are, of course, many stereotypes of pitiable figures swathed in flies and filth. Was this what I would find?
The first clip I played was an aerial shot out the window of a plane – the camp from afar. It was still cold and unrelatable, this foreign land.
Then I dug in to the footage of the faces, the individuals, the refugees themselves. I was entranced by the simple beauty of the women’s scarves expertly wrapped about them and set against the ruddy landscape. I became familiar with many of the friends my teammates have made in their many trips to the camps – the teachers fighting for better salaries and better materials, the charismatic leaders championing for their people. The children are vibrant, and in their eyes they possess hope, resilience, aspiration, and joy. They want nothing more than what we all want: a better life, safety, opportunity – and most of all, the right to pursue these things for themselves. I found myself moved to tears by the simple things I never knew; the things I never give a second thought to in my own life.
There is a beauty to this tragic tale. I do not mean to romanticize it, for their lives are not pretty. Food, medical care, and school books are in short supply. Families have been brutally ripped apart. Yet the human spirit endures. It is evident in their eyes.
As I work with my teammates to help share the stories of the Darfuri refugees – I am reminded that each of us on earth are the collective authors of the story of humanity. We owe it to one another to write the best ending possible.
Jordan Rae Lake
Not many people could be seen walking around the camp. The temperature was above 100 degrees, and it does not make sense to be out being pounded by a sun that is so much brighter than where I live, sunny Southern California. It was good to back at Camp Djabal, where we have so many friends.
We talked education and politics with Abdulaziz and Sulieman, had a meeting with camp leaders from all the different blocks, visited the secondary school and spoke with the students as we distributed some of the Kindles, and we worked on the computers and system that make up Commkit.
Ali, Kung Fu Ali, found us at the end of our visit to the camp, and he was happy and polite, as usual. Ali is one of those kids that it just feels good to have around you. He has a good vibe, even in crushing heat.
Sometime after 3:00pm, activity and color exploded around a water station. Women, girls, and some boys came with their containers to collect water. Sulieman repeated what we had heard at the Governor’s place. Water starts to become a big issue these months. They have to dig deeper and deeper to find it, and the local population and the refugee population must make do with whatever is available, until the rainy season sometime in the Summer.
The leaders and teachers talked about the need for preschools. Our friends told us that Gration is bad for Darfur and should not be the Ambassador to Kenya. Many told us that the Sister Schools Program is making a positive impact in the camp. Ali told us, with his huge Ali smile, that he is in 7th grade, then goes to 8th, and then to secondary school! It was a good, albeit hot, day in Djabal, and I’m happy to be going back tomorrow. Many more friends to see and lots to do and talk about.