Stop Genocide Now team members gather this week in Los Angeles to prepare for our fourth trip to the camps and my first trip into a conflict region. Our time is spent following up with UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) contacts, checking satellite connections, charging video cameras and, for me, learning an entirely new computer before we depart on Saturday, January 12th. As we prepare for i-ACT and several other projects to be completed in the field, tensions between Chadian rebels and soldiers is on the rise.
January 3, 2008: the US Department of State issued a new travel warning, one that supersedes the warning I wrote about prior to our July 2007 i-ACT. Since our last trip the total number of Darfuri refugees in the 12 Chad camps has reached over 231,000. Additionally, 50,000 Central African Republic refugees have fled violence in their own country to join the growing number of displaced in the region. And all of these civilians are surrounded by ongoing violence between Chad rebel groups and government soldiers.
Skepticism of humanitarian aid workers has increased since France’s Zoe’s Arc workers were accused of kidnapping 100 supposedly orphaned Darfuri children. Bandits continue to target UN and NGO vehicles for carjacking. And unless you work through UNHCR or another aid organization, you will not be able to travel through Chad. The advisory warns: travel in groups, keep a cell phone on you, avoid night travel and leave detailed plans of travel with UNHCR or the US Embassy.
I anticipate that the air in N’Djamena will be thick with fear and exhaustion. That eyes of uncertainty will follow my every move. And that my usual and necessary trip to the market will produce a feeling of sorrow and sadness that I will have never felt before in what is usually the center of every bustling city.
But my feeling of excitement to connect communities and help provide Darfuri refugees with hope and the beginning of new future, one not centered around the idol life in a camp, surpasses anything that a travel warning might create. Out team will be on the ground for three weeks, i-ACT will be on air for 10 days, and when we safely return over 20 communities will be united with survivors. Regardless of any travel warning that anyone could give me, I know that our dedicated team is changing the way the world responds to genocide. And if not us, then no one would be doing it.