FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
November 16, 2011 - California-based i-ACT is departing on its eleventh expedition to Eastern Chad to bring technology, educational materials, and sports equipment to Darfuri refugees living in camps along the Chad-Darfur border.
With tensions rising and rumors of looming civil war between Sudan and newly seceded South Sudan, the team faces an uncertain level of danger. i-ACT founder Gabriel Stauring, who will be leading the expedition, says “A trip to the Chad-Sudan border always has a degree of danger at every corner. With the possibility of North-South war, plus Darfuri rebels organizing, the instability of the whole region is affected.”
The group will be partnering with Washington D.C.-based Darfur Dream Team to further school improvements and follow up with students in the Sister Schools program. i-ACT will also be delivering a mobile library in partnership with the Human Rights Watch Student Task Force. The library consists of a donkey saddled with learning materials focused on human rights and the English language, and will travel from school to school within camp Djabal.
In addition to the education-based projects, i-ACT will begin forming Darfur United – an all-refugee soccer team set to attempt 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.
The expedition team of Stauring plus i-ACT representatives Jeremiah Forest and Jordan Rae Lake, and Darfur Dream Team representative Meghan Higginbotham, will be in the field from November 21 until December 7, 2011. The team will be visiting refugee camps Goz Amer, Djabal, Kounoungo, and Mile.
i-ACT is a 501(c)(3) non-profit seeking to empower individuals within communities, institutions, and governments to take personal responsibility to act on behalf of those affected by genocide, mass atrocities, and crimes against humanity. For more information visit http://iactivism.org
1Build a Darfur soccer team of the best players from the twelve refugee camps in eastern Chad to participate in an international tournament.
2 Share the story of building the team to raise awareness and educate people about the situation in Darfur and the refugee experience.
3 Facilitate ongoing support for education, sports, nutrition, and other services through relationships between refugees and global citizens.
Darfur United – The Project
This project will be a “living documentary,” as we share every step of the journey. The story will be told, day -to-day, through the Darfur United website, Facebook, Twitter, and here on Indiegogo. We will then produce a documentary film of the entire journey.
This project will be a powerful vehicle for worldwide awareness about refugee and internally displaced persons from Darfur, as well as the large-scale humanitarian efforts that are essential for their protection. It will also offer a great opportunity for global citizens to get involved and support the refugees in their struggle for a better life and future. Darfur United’s journey will highlight the personal stories behind the huge numbers related to the years-long crisis in Darfur.
Soccer has been an integral part of my life. I was – and still am – a tough player. My coaches nicknamed me “Evil Jay,” since I would pretty much do anything to get that soccer ball away from my opponents. Although I was never captain, I took pride in being a leader on the field. I communicated often and loudly. I had good tactical vision and my touch was decent. When I look back at all those years of soccer, what I remember the most is not the wins or losses (well I do remember winning the Washington State Cup Finals my senior year!), but what the sport did for me personally. I became a stronger leader thanks to the sport. My energy was focused and goal-oriented, and I definitely learned time management. Teamwork taught me lessons that I would have never learned as an only child. Most importantly, soccer gave me an outlet. It allowed me to play away all my negative feelings and let everything go (my apologies to those who felt the blows as result of this!). Above all, soccer kept me out of trouble. Without it, I’m not sure where I would be today.
When I was 8 years, I convinced my mom to stop enrolling me in ballet. It was not my thing. Around the same time, someone suggested to her that sports would be a good outlet for all my energy. She registered me for my first and only AYSO year! Thus began my world of soccer.
The following year, I made the Eastside F.C. (Football Club) Stars club team. We traveled across the U.S. and even to Europe to play soccer. My teammates and I spent much of our free time together, as many of us also played on the District and State Olympic Development Program (ODP) teams. I went on to play for Washington Soccer Club, Mercer Island High School Varsity, and at the University of North Carolina-Wilmington for a year in college. Recently, I’ve played in the womens’ Torrance league and with my family on the beach. I also had the opportunity to coach a girls U-14 team a few years ago, and I have a feeling I was paid back for a bit of my own youthful attitude.
I see that same attitude in the children in the refugee camps we visit – they LOVE SOCCER. Unfortunately, they don’t have the equipment to play the game formally. They tie rope together or sew old socks into balls to create anything round that they can kick. They listen to games over the radio and debate who are the best players in the world. After the violence in 2008, most organizations who provided sports equipment left because the situation became too volatile. i-ACT never backs down from an opportunity, and we have two amazing programs starting this month:
These projects have the opportunity to provide the same skills and lessons I learned through soccer and so much more to thousands of refugee children in the camps. They deserve the right to play – and the right to grow.
Last weekend several of the i-ACT team members gathered from around the country. It was amazing to see old faces and connect new faces to the incredible work that the team has been doing this past year. So many ideas, projects and resources came together during our retreat. It was appropriately during Father’s Day weekend as so many of us were first drawn to this work by the children we saw on the videos. All weekend as I looked around the
table, I kept thinking that this was a dream team of committed activists. Everyone there was just a regular person with regular responsibilities and daily worries dedicated to aiding and supporting our friends in the camps and in Darfur. It was a powerful lesson in the strength in every day people coming together for a sustained amount of time to stand for something. I learned so much from each of the team member’s area of passion and expertise. This team started with one man and his sister and I have watched it grow over the years to include some of the most amazing people I’ve ever met. This tiny “little team that could” has never stopped climbing up that seemingly impossible mountain of mass atrocity to reach other every day people like ourselves. We get tired, frustrated and scared but we keep each other going and pull each other back in when we feel overwhelmed. Many of us had never even met in person which is a powerful testament to both the power of intention and the best uses of the Internet. I left feeling an odd but wonderful feeling……hopeful.
Back home, I’m connected at all times. My Blackberry is attached to my hand. I don’t think it could fall out, even if I tried to drop it. My Mac is control central for all my activities and communication. E-mails, blogs, tweets, Facebook posts, and many more forms of reaching out and listening in are almost non-stop. On a regular basis, I connect through video chat with my team — always at night, since they all have other “regular” jobs. I’m always connected!
I’m still pretty amazed at being able to connect for a live streaming video feed, in pretty good quality, all the way from Eastern Chad, where there is no infrastructure and definitely no wifi. We do this with a few things we carry in one backpack.
Today, we facilitated what was called a Live School Assembly from Camp Goz Amer. Students and teachers from this refugee camp gathered to answer questions from people, many of them students, from the United States and other parts of the world. It was streaming live through the internet, and people could send in their questions, real time. As our friend the Umda, or camp leader, said, “This is the first time we connect with the outside world like this.”
The violence the refugees experienced and which forced them from their homes occurred without anyone watching or listening. They walked across the desert, many of them dying along the way, without anyone watching or listening. They have now been living here for about eight years, and they feel disconnected from the world and from having influence about major issues related to their home–Darfur–and their lives. Blackberries and Macs won’t change this for our friends here. There has to be real and sincere listening on the other side. After listening, there has to be immediate action.
Busy N’Djamena day for the team. Busy and good. The streets of this capital city look so different from earlier trips. On my first trip in 2005, NDJ had somewhat of a feeling of the wild wild west, African style. Very few streets were paved, and you saw armed men everywhere. It was also dark at night. Driving from the airport to the hotel was an eerie ride through blinding shadows, with gun totting figures appearing last minute on the side of the road, illuminated by the taxi’s headlamps. Streets are now, on the most part, paved, and there are bright lamps in all major streets. It’s beginning to feel more like a capital city, kinda.
Camouflage clothing is still very in. I’m not sure if they’re all soldiers, but I guess most are. There are still way too many guns out there, AK47s I’m, again, guessing. Not too many people smile, unless you meet them one-on-one, when they become personable and even friendly.
To navigate the travel and video permits system here, you need friends. UNHCR has been more than that. They worked our permits and transportation in record time. It even feels strange to be leaving NDJ so fast, but I’m happy to be flying out tomorrow morning. Delphine, at UNHCR, coordinated everything, with Carole doing a lot of the leg work. Red tape is never fun.
What is fun is traveling with bright and entertaining teammates. Laughing is good in so many ways during these expeditions. I would not be on my 10th, if it wasn’t for being able to stay positive, at least at times, and laughing as much as possible, given where we go and the stories we hear.
Tomorrow, we get up early to get to the airport a little after 6am. We then get in a small plane to Abeche and there, hopefully, soon after on a smaller plane that takes us to Goz Beida (GZB). Camp Djabal is only a ten minute ride from GZB.
I already miss my family back home, but I’m looking forward to seeing my friends at Djabal.