Yesterday we went to out to the UNHCR sub office Goz Beida which oversees to camps Djabal and Goz Amer.
- Djabal is home to about 15,500 Refugees
- Goz Amer is home to about 20,000 Refugees
Plus there about 120,000 IDP’s or Internally Displaced Persons
If you’re like me you’re probably asking, what is the difference between a refugee and a IDP? Good question. The difference is a refugee is someone who has crossed the border because of persecution, violence, oppression etc. An IDP is someone who is displaced as a result of the exact same reasons, but they do so within their own country. Now this is one of the many complicated aspects of this region. Because the border just doesn’t really exist between Chad and Sudan. What do I mean? Well If you walk across the 100’s of miles of border between the countries, there is no fence, no line, nothing. Its just like everywhere else in the world, its been carved up with imaginary lines that were drawn between the two countries by people in power many years ago. I always liked the perspective…. that you can’t see any of our man made borders from space. However out in the wilderness there is no border, the villagers live on around, and easily cross over the “Border” all the time. Some of the people even live and Chad and their children technically go to school in Sudan, and vice versa. So as they have all fled from similar conflict some of them are designated refugees and some IDP’s. Refugees get to stay in the camps and basic needs like shelter, food, medicine provided from UNHCR, UNICEF, WFP, and others. The IDP’s are not allowed access to these services because they are technically in their own country and should be able to turn to it for help. As is the case here and in many places, there government is part of the problem or can’t or won’t offer any assistance. One of the shocking elements I learned coming down, here is that in some ways the refugees live better than the IDP’s or even the villagers around them, simple because they have basic food, vaccinations, and shelter needs being met.
So now you have 10’s if not 100’s of thousands of people who are from the same area of conflict, who move into an area of already poor villagers, and begin using local resources, wood, water, land, etc. Some of them become refugees, if when they are interviewed they came from a village in Sudan, some are not allowed in the camps. They instead create makeshift camps outside the refugee camps. And the refugees get taken care of better then most of the surrounding areas.
So imagine you moved your village near a water hole and life is not great but you are getting by as a poor farmer. Then 10o kilometers away the genocide begins and you get 120,000 new neighbors in your backyard, who are beaten, injured, starving and fleeing genocide. Now the water that supported your community, dries up and all the firewood disappears.
Now its not to say as if the refugees have a great life, but it creates its own tension with people in the area. More on the complications in the area in later posts.
As we travel along the road from the landing strip to the camp we pass through the town for Goz Beida. The village is made up of thatched huts and filled with a huge amount of military forces. Everywhere you look there are jeeps filled with soldiers and landed with RPG’s (Rocket Propelled Grenades) hanging loosely off the side. It has a tense feeling to town as this area and just east off here has been the focus off a lot of conflict in the last few months.
We pass through the town in about 15 minutes and pass the now familiar blue and white sign of the UNCHR signaling that we are entering the Refugee Camp of Djabal.
Driving past some huts and enter a complex of long red adobe buildings laid out in a rectangle creating a large dirt square in the middle. Our driver Alpha, is asking someone were the group is, when in the distance we see a group of 25 children following someone in a white shirt. Must be Gabriel.
We drive across the square hop out of the car and are immediately mobbed by throngs of smiling cheery faces. It is exciting and a little overwhelming at the same time. Not sure what to do I begin snapping pictures and giving high fives. Showing them the pictures they squeal and laugh. They get so excited that they begin pushing each other out of the way and its hard to take pictures of one at time. I soon learn my role is crowd control and begin keeping them back and giving them a order of photos. You.. then you next, then you, then you. It sort of works, but kids are kids and they start sticking their hands in front of the camera and putting their faces in front of the camera. It’s fun and easy to get caught up in their excitement as I happily snap pictures for the next 20 minutes.
Gabriel and KT-J begin to make their way over to the school and start to interview a group of teenagers about their education. They move through the class one by one asking them about their experience in school. I listen in amazement at their desire and passion for an education. They all ask for more books, have dreams of becoming scientists, teachers, Doctors, and scientists. They also exhibit a frustration of how they miss their homeland, how much better school was in Darfur, and not understanding why they can’t continue on in school. They humbly ask for anything the US can do to help the situation. This is particularly encouraging and disheartening. Encouraging because they still looks to the US as the leader in the world. Discouraging because they aren’t feeling the impact of that leadership. Which is an incredible opportunity for our community to contribute so little and be able to make such a huge difference in the lives of so many.
Listening to the children toady and from the conversations we have had with Chadians, UNHCR officials, and humanitarian workers has verified a vision that we have had for over a year now. The impact of education in the camps is a critical factor in the improving the present and in the long-term sustainability of these communities. I begin to feel that vision moving from theory to reality. I can see clearly the school being built by the people of the community, children being inspired by the possibility of a complete education, 1000’s of children drinking from the cup of knowledge and becoming the leaders that guide this community into the future. It is no longer a concept, its now tangible, and more importantly possible! I look forward to creating this school with the smiling faces in front of me and all of you back home.
The first day in camps has been as touching and inspiring as I could have ever imagined.
Your grateful for the present moment and excited to do it again tomorrow fellow Global Citizen,