There are many rituals shared, with subtle variations, by all of humanity. They cut through the man-made barriers that have arisen over time – borders, skin color, amount of wealth – and remind us that we are much more same than different. One of these rituals is school-going. In a refugee camp set in the Chadian desert, every school day children get dressed, pack their books, join their friends and set off to school together. We were fortunate to join as insiders today.
As the school came into view, we saw that many kids were playing in the compound. Ah, that beloved time right before the start of school when great childhood storylines are played out. Some kids caught sight of us, and started coming towards. Within a few moments, it seemed like the entire school population was swarming around us. Everyone was very friendly and greeting us, but I still felt a bit uncomfortable being the object of curiosity for so many people! After a bit more walking we reached the principal’s office, and he brought out chairs for us. So there we were, sitting outside his office, with a few hundred students standing right in front of us. Then with just a few words and hand gestures from the principal, everyone dispersed. Respect of elders (and maybe authority) is clear here, even though it is often at odds with pure youthful exuberance.
After the assembly, which included the singing of songs about Darfur, the kids filed off inside to await their teachers. Connie and I spoke with a few older-looking boys right outside their classroom. One was 18, another was 21 (though he looked more mature than that). They spoke very good English considering they had only started learning it upon arriving at the camp a few years back, but they were all in grade 5. The day before, we spoke to a former Darfuri teacher who said that the government had not spent money on Darfur for a long time. Recently I came upon the average literacy for Darfuri refugees in a group of camps. It was significantly lower than the overall Sudan number. While these statements are by no means solid science, one thing is clear: there were legitimate triggers for the dissent in Darfur, so for there to be a true and lasting peace, there has to be a commitment by those in power to give Darfur its share of physical and human development.
Later, we interviewed four students who had been selected by their teacher to speak with us in English. Two future teachers, a future professor of languages, and a future president of Sudan. Gabriel asked them about the songs they sang, and the boys sang one to us. I thought the lyrics were very moving, so here they are again as translated by Assad, the 18 year old boy:
We love our Sudan, we love our Sudan
But we have desire to return back in our Sudan
But we not have any free, how can we return back, how can we return back in our Sudan
How can we return back in our Sudan
We never have any education, how can we return back in our Sudan
We love our Sudan very much, very much
He really sounded like he meant it. Almost everyone we’ve spoken to, despite the atrocities they experienced, wants to return to Darfur. How many of us can claim so much love for our country? Why should not a government reciprocate this love and by doing so achieve progress through true partnership? Yes, I hear, things are “not so simple”.
As guiding principles, I believe they really are.
3 replies on “Yuen-Lin’s Day 6 journal”
It is nice to see, after everything that has happened the children are keeping up with their schooling. Much like everywhere children are the future. I also believe things can easily be remedied, it is the selfishness, greed, hate or ignorance of a government that does not want change. The positiveness of the peopole ( especially the children) will prevail. I just wish it would have happened already.
We all have much to learn from the joy and respect these students have for education. I’m sure a great deal of learning is done outside the walls of the classroom studies, as they share with others what each has absorbed. Their rate of learning the English language is impressive, especially with such limited exposure and opportunity to converse with English speakers. These students learning in such disadvantaged circumstances seem quite willing to help one another progress. I wish we could get more supplies, including academic materials, into these camps. Are there any aid agencies which have been successful with such? What can we at home do to fill such needs? Continue your fine work building communication bridges for all of us!
I totally agree that children are the future, and even the present in many ways. They have so much to offer. I think the positiveness of the people of Darfur can serve as a source of inspiration and strength for those of us working on their behalf. If we channel our own positiveness to productive avenues, and generate enough in the people around us, it will grow to a stage where major tangible effects will be observed. The few will inevitably have to bow to the wishes of the many, one way or another. We must keep working knowing that even if peace is not achieved tomorrow, it may be achieved one, two, five years sooner than otherwise.
I share your wish to help them in a very concrete way. All the more because, as you pointed out, they are so determined and have made much progress even with such limited resources. My impression is that the aid agency most involved with education in the camps is UNICEF. I think there are both large needs and relatively smaller needs we can help with. Logistics and conditions are tough here, so I think it comes down to choosing a camp where we have a good connection both with the community and with the NGO(s) in charge. Thankfully, we have both of these in one of the camps. Hopefully we can start working there, and later with the benefit of experience and better connections, expand to include other camps as well.
One large need we found is secondary education – there were no secondary schools in any of the camps we visited. An idea came up to spearhead the building of a secondary school at the camp I mentioned above. The school would be supported by i-ACTivists, both financially and in other ways. We would maintain continuous personal connections between the school community and the i-ACTivists that support it.
Supplies are needed as well, however the impression I got was that the degree of need in that respect varies across camps. Definitely many would benefit from a more detailed needs assessment. Such information may already be available from the NGOs. We can probably work on this angle concurrently with the school project.
Looking forward to working together!