Returning to Camp Kounoungou

IMG_1638i-ACT Day 1 means the start of a ten day marathon of non-stop activity. It’s been busy pre-i-ACT, but now it goes to another level. For Day 1, I get up at 6am and start getting ready to head out to Camp Kounoungou. We head out on a convoy with security from the local authorities. Security is a pickup truck full of armed men. One of the prerequisites of being on one of those security teams must be to possess beyond-human balance, since riding on the back of those Toyotas up and down the desert roads is more dangerous than any attack from bandits or rebel forces.Getting to Camp Kounoungou is exciting for me. I feel connected to the camp, from being so attached to the young Ahmat I met in 2005, from finding a local leader—Yakoub—who cares about his people and has the vision and passion to be a part of rebuilding a stronger Darfur, and from making friends like UNHCR’s Hala, Jorge, and Emmanuel (who no longer works in Guereda, but I continue to bump into in different places in Chad).

Yakoub G group of kids As if staged, KTJ and I barely get off of the vehicle and are about to walk the camp when I see Yakoub walking in our direction. He greets me with such warmth and a feeling of shared friendship that I hope serves, even if in a tiny way, as a connection between all the communities we have visited and feel a part of in the US and the people in this camp and others and all over Darfur.

Yakoub gives us his day to show us the camp. He is the perfect interpreter for us because he speaks the language and he lives the culture. I also, personally, really appreciate Yakoub’s ability to see the small and big picture. He talks about the day-to-day challenges for the refugees, but he also talks about the future, in a wider sense, of his people. He is wise enough to know that the big and small pictures are very much connected. Education always finds a way in to our conversations. He sees it as the bridge from the hopelessness in the camps to the promise and potential in a peaceful Darfur.

close up purple scarf There are many people building structures inside of the camp. Some time ago, people did not want to build, believing that they would soon get to go back home. Making their daily lives a little more comfortable in the camp is also a sign of them loosing hope.

As Yakoub often tells us, there are many positives in the camp. We should not feel pity for the refugees. They are strong, and they are proud. They are complex. They are like you. By building community, us and them is gone.

Paz,
g

Gabriel co-founded Stop Genocide Now in 2005, which gave birth to i-ACT in 2009.

He became involved in the situation in Darfur out of a sense of personal responsibility. He believes the power of community and compassion, combined with personal empowerment, can bring about meaningful change.

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7 Responses to “Returning to Camp Kounoungou”
  1. Mimi Schiff says:

    Dear Gabriel,
    Thank you for the wonderful Day 1. It was good to see your friend come to greet you. To see the resilience, the caring, the love brings into perspective what our internal lives can and should be. I look forward to visually joining you as you help to reinforce my belief that we are all joined in humankind, no matter the miles or circumstances. Also that we are all responsible for humankind, no matter the miles or the circumstances.
    Go in peace and love
    Mimi Schiff

  2. Tiffany Wheeler says:

    Hey G!!! Great video day 1. I hope the editing isn’t keeping you up all night! I was wondering if there was any word on Ahmat or his family? I can’t wait to see day 2!

  3. Cory says:

    Hey G!
    Awesome work with day 1 at Kounoungou! You mentioned the people of Darfur making their daily lives more comfortable in the camps, and this being a sign of losing hope. Is this losing hope apparent in the presence and personalities of the refugees, or are they still as resilient as they were four years ago?

    Day 1 has already made an impact on how we view the situation and we are all anxiously awaiting day 2!!

    Safe travels,

    Cory

  4. Djata Grant says:

    Hello Gabriel!

    It is so wonderful to see you and KTJ in Africa! After having spent so much time with you both before your departure, I can’t help but feel that we are becoming like family. You are both in my heart, thoughts and prayers and I am so proud of you for your tireless efforts, unwavering compassion and absolute unwillingness to be a bystander to the genocide in Darfur.

    Watching i-ACT Day 1 has inspired and encouraged me in so many ways. Thank you for bringing their stories and voices to the world. Will you be returning to Kounoungou tomorrow or will you be visiting another camp? Anxious to see more faces and hear more stories!

    Thinking of you all and wishing you peace and safe travels.
    Djata

  5. Mimi S. says:

    Hey Papi,
    GREAT video on day 1! Its great that you guys are now at the camps. I just cant wait to see day 2 and see more of all the beautiful people! I hope that you guys do well in this trip and are very successful.GOOD LUCK!!!
    Peace & Love
    Mimi
    P.S Im going to ask my friends to watch the videos and to help us stop this Genocide.

  6. stace says:

    G, So glad you made it safely. It made me smile to see the picture of you on that tiny plane but that was quickly replaced by the memory of how much everyone longed to get back home a year ago. More structures does feel like a loss of hope but as Yakoub reminds us the Darfurian people are strong and complex. Yes, everyday people holding onto hope and each other. As always, hats off to you. Hello to All there, Stace

  7. Lisa says:

    Gabriel, it’s always heartwarming to see the kind, enthusiastic reception you get on your return to the camps. The interactions you share help us feel more connected with these refugees, from Yakoub’s wise leadership to the youngest children’s curious greetings. Although the building of structures within the camps may seem like an indicator of lost hope, it can also reflect the resilience of the Darfuris, as the initial shock diminishes and they gather their spirit and determination to survive. With improved conditions within their “temporary” refuge, they can rebuild their strength and make concrete plans for return to their homeland. The “community” i-ACT is building is importantly sustaining hope.

    Blessings,

    Lisa
    San Antonio

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