(written 12/29/06 9.38pm)
We’re getting ready to head out to another camp, one we have not visited before. This will be our fourth. Each morning, when we get in our car and we see the blue gates open, I feel some excitment. The drives to the camps are not boring; on the contrary, there is so much to take in! What beautiful land. There are great hill that I just wish could I run up. In the middle of the desert, there are also these amazingly resilient flowers that are a bright pink that jumps to you. We see children in places where there is no village in sight, and I wonder how they got there.
Then, I get to the entrance to a camp, and I also wonder, how did all of them get here? Day 9 was another emotionally draining day. I am just not good at seeing little ones that are clearly suffering, and there is nothing one can do. I sat in a tent with Ahmat, the father of an ill two year old boy. The boy lay motionless, with the pulse of his heart visible on his neck. The look in the father’s face was one that I will not describe because I can’t. You will see it yourself. I felt my voice break, as I asked him some questions and wished his son a quick recovery. Ahmat did not complain about anything. He said that he thanked God for what he had. He wished he and his family was home. When stepping outside of the tent, Ahmat introduced us to his beautiful family, and he seemed so grateful for us being there. We had nothing for him, except for being there. We told him that many in America and around the world are standing with him and his family, and he again gave thanks to Allah.
My brother, Javier, works with incarcerated youth and is a fighter for the concept and practice of restorative justice. He shares time with many boys and girls that are facing decades to life in prison. Javier taught me the value of standing with people during difficult or even helpless moments. It has not been easy to stand with the displaced people of Darfur, but it is nothing compared with what they have to endure and what we get back in return.
Gabriel’s replies to comments
Thank you again for another wonderful comment. We continue to be amazed by the importance of education to the people of Darfur. The world should honor that commitment by providing them the opportunity to grow and make use of their education for the betterment of their country and land. Thank you for sending op-ed submissions to newspapers. It is so important for the mass media to present the humanity that is being lost every single day, while the world negotiates with a genocidal government. Thank you, and see you soon!
Hi Stacey’s Mom:
This IS happening on our watch, and we cannot rationalize, talking about the complexity of the situation, to make us feel better for our innaction. It is real human beings that are suffering. It is not a political game. Thanks for your prayers and support!
As you say, how can anyone turn their back on children? If the world continues to allow this, the destruction of Darfur, to continue, we have all collectively turned our backs on hundreds of thousands of innocent children.
Thanks for your post. I am also hoping that many are moved to act after watching the the wonderful people in the videos. Thanks for coming along.
I’m also very positive, and I believe that we cannot let ourselves get down and give up because of the enormity of the situation. We must always ask ourselves, what can I do today?
Muy cierto, la situacion que vive esta gente es forzada y no natural para ellos. Aunque agradecen lo mucho que reciben de alluda, se sienten encerrados y un menos que completos. Gracias Mom.
Thanks for “all the love and light” you send us. We will pass it on to the people we meet on the rest of our journey.
Thank you for deciding to be an upstander against genocide. Please stay in touch, since Stacey and I want to bring Camp Darfur, a traveling camp that focuses on the history of genocide and invites people to participate in preventing and stopping genocide.
As you and others might have noticed, Stacey and I try to answer all comments, even if directed to the other. We believe that this way we’ll get double the good vibes! Thanks for staying with us, and thanks to all in the Student Task Force.
Yes, we are one. I feel the same that you felt, at sitting with your nephew and watching the children of Darfur. I am constantly reminded of my daughter and son, when I see the girls and boys in the camps. These children cannot be blamed for anything, but they pay an enormous price.
Thank you for your beautiful post and for the positive words. I hope that many are inspired to act, at seeing the beauty that will be lost, if we allow this to continue.
Hello Justin A:
You are right. We did spend our holidays with brothers and sisters. Although I miss being with my family and enjoying of the comforts that I’m accustomed to, it is a privilege to be able to spend time with our extended family from Darfur.
Wow, thanks for spreading word about i-ACT and Darfur in your country, Slovenia. It is so important to make this a top priority at the international level. This is a problem that belongs to the world. I very much appreciate your support.
Dear David Inglis:
From Scotland! Thank you for your comment. What you mention was the main motivation for creating i-ACT. We did not believe that people could connect at the personal level through what was out there in the media, so we saw i-ACT as a way for there to be a dialogue that builds relationships. We are only just starting with this concept, and there is so much more we can do. I hope that people from around the world can get invested personally in the lives of others, so that we are a true, caring community.
Great question. Yes, many families become separated. Many never know exactly what happened to loved ones. Some end up at different camps, either in Chad or the internal ones. The Red Cross and UNHCR attempt to help families communicate from camp to camp through letters, and, when possible, there is reunification. On may cases, mothers and fathers venture out on their own, looking for separated families back in Darfur or in Chad. It is a heartbreaking reality that many just do not know if they lost their loved ones for ever. One positive thing is that the people of Darfur have strong connections with extended family, so that there are very few unaccompanied children; their closest relatives or neighbors take them in.
Hello Tait from Pali High!
Thank you for your kind words and well wishes. I am sure that I will see you at Pali soon. Keep up the good work there!
Hello Sara S:
Thanks for your note. Yes, the number of dead and the number of displaced is mind numbing. When you meet individuals and hear their stories, you realize that each of the dead and displaced have their own stories, and the world is losing that, more and more each day.
Thank you. We will keep safe. Please stay with our journey.
You ask how do people adapt to living with war. When we ask the adults, they say that everything they do is for their children. They keep going, so that their children have food, education, and a future. They do not give up. They keep thinking of home, and I believe that the hope that someday they will return also helps them.
Hey Tsai Yi:
Yes, Stacey and I had to find a way to “cleanse” ourselves from the conversation with the “NGO lady,” since we were about to go in with the children that were going to watch From America with Love, from the children in California. I know that we definitely do not have a monopoly on what’s the right attitude towards this hugely complex crisis. We do know when it does not feel right to us. Basically, I believe that people, no matter what their status is, deserve to express their complete spirit and life. Because they are refugees, it does not mean that they should not want more, do not feel the same, do not wish to experience a full life.
I’m sorry that Stace did not get to spend Christmas with you, but she was thinking of her family and misses you so much. Thank you for allowing her to be here, where she is also needed.
I agree that our government must DO something to end this genocide now. You know, I don’t think that a video and written message from a child in California does nothing to ease the pain of a child from Darfur. When I get a message from you and others, it makes me feel connected to a greater community, and to know that there are others working next to me on this helps me to keep going, and it gives me so much energy. So, I believe that a child here that knows that she has a friend in a far away place that is thinking of her and wants her to have a better life does a lot for the soul of that child. That girl that you saw now has a picture of the little girl in Redding and a drawing and a letter. I agree, that will not feed her body, but it will feed her soul. It does not mean that all we do is try to feed the soul. On the contrary, allowing the community of Redding to connect at that level with a child from Darfur will motivate Redding, which has already been amazing in creating action, to do even more to change for the positive all aspects of that child and her community.
Thank you for your kind note. I will look for that book, LEFT TO TELL, since, back in the States, we go around teaching about genocide, past and present, and we share about books and other materials with whoever visits our traveling Camp Darfur (http://www.campdarfur.org). Thank you.
Dear Ruth Messinger:
Thank you for your note. You are one of my heroes and an inspiration for so many. Thank you for all that you do, and I look forward to seeing you again.
Hello Lisa Goldner and family:
I agree with you. We don’t pretend to be having an immediate impact on the living conditions of the people we meet. We see our efforts as a way to create a type of relationship between the people of Darfur and people around the world. It is our hope that these relationships will create action as soon as possible, so that there will be a protected and restored Darfur for the people to return to. And, you are also right about the power of hope.
We passed on your message to Yusef and Ali. They say hi and Assalam alay kum to you. We are all our own cameramen/woman. We take turns, Stace, Ali, and I. We wish we had the budget to bring a cameraman and not worry about that part of it; it would free us up to just be with the people, but we make it work :)
Dear Mimi Schiff:
I also worked with abused children and their families back in California. It was so difficult to help the families and the children heal and continue growing. For the children of Darfur, the trauma is not only great but it is ongoing. The woman said, “This is the life they know, and they have to move on!” If it was that easy…
Hey Mimi (my daughter):
Yes Mimi, the children of Darfur love to learn, just like you. I hope one day soon they get to learn in schools that are in Darfur and that they’ll grow up strong and safe, just like you and Gabo. Hugs mi chiquita. Papi.
Thank you for your message, and thank you for calling Senator Feinstein. You are so right. We need the new UN Secretary General to make Darfur a true priority for the world. The nations of the world cannot talk and talk and talk, while millions are in grave, immediate danger. Thank you for all that you do with Human Rights Watch.
Yes, we have been through some extreme emotional ups and downs. We don’t always know if the videos are expressing the reality of what we see, but we are trying. There is so much beauty, but there is also so much suffering.
Hahaha. Acepto ser el padrino del imaginado bebe! Es mas facil que de uno de verdad! Zahara me dice que ellas se lo creyeron y empezaron a llamarse. Que inocentes verdad? :)
Thank you for your kind words.
About Bashir and his ability to honor agreements, when will the world stop waiting for this man to be honorable. When has he shown the ability to be nothing but brutal. If he stops killing in one place, he starts in another. He has been playing with the weak will of the international community for almost four years, and we have not learned. Over and over, we have been hearing from the refugees that they do not see a solution coming from the African Union. I know that adding UN advisors to the AU might be a step in the right direction, but we are so, so beyond the point of where we should be accepting “steps.”
You said: “The differences between the children at this camp from the ones at the previous camp are noticeable as detailed in Stacey’s blog. Is it that some camps receive more provisions than others? Or is it that just some are better organized by their leaders than others? The children at this camp seem so much more disciplined and a bit more reserved. The other children seemed so much happier even though their conditions seem worse.”
There are many factors that play in to why one camp is different from another. Each camp is managed by a different NGO, which brings with it its own style. The surroundings and available natural resources also play a big part. Also, the different camps were established at different times, so that you have populations that arrived during different waves at each of the camps. It is so difficult to know the emotional conditions of the children. The ones that seem happier might be more needy. The first school that we visited and the camp around it gave me the feeling of people that were losing hope, and that the children were more wanting to cling to us. They were more ragged and ill, as you say, but they might look to people watching the video as being more happy, when it might be that they are more in need of finding that moment that will bring them hope. But yes, each camp really feels different.
Salam Aleykom. Thank you for your note and for the information. We met some Aljazeera reporters, when in N’djamena. I am not an expert in policy and diplomacy, but I keep hearing from the refugee that they will not go back home to a Darfur that is under African Union protection. It is still to be seen if the UN addition to the AU will make much of a difference. As Bashir was talking this agreement, there was another attack in Darfur, killing more innocent civilians. Bashir is an expert at buying time, so that he can continue the killing. Please keep me posted of any developments. Thank you Charles!
We have exact numbers for the camps we are visiting, but we are currently not saying exactly where we are or have been, just to be extra cautious. We will ask some of the questions about orphans in our next visit to a camp, tomorrow. We know that there are not many unaccompanied children, since family and neighbors take them in. The Darfuris have a strong and liberal sense of family, so that it is natural for one family to take children that need a home. We spoke with a health coordinator at one of the camps, and he told us that the populations in the two camps that he works are very much on the edge, related to nutrition. He said that the difficult months, when there local area runs out of extra resources, is coming soon. Any instability in the region that might affect aid to the camps could be catastrophic in a matter of weeks.
Yes, we are connecting to a satellite via a modem connected to this MacBook. It is pretty amazing to me that we can send this much data, going from Africa up to space and then down to California, where our i-ACT team there posts it on the website. Pretty cool, huh? I, being very non-tech savvy, am just grateful for Yuen Lin and Carolyn!