During our visits to the camps, we are surrounded by children saying “HALLO,” reaching for our hands, and hoping we will take a photo of them. Many have given us drawings and asked us to share their story with the world. They truly believe that if people see their pictures and hear their stories, that the genocide will end and they will be able to return home.
The canvas panels included in MY HOME are an extension of a project from Petaluma, CA where students from Meadows Elementary sent messages of peace and hope to the children of the refugee camps. With no instructions at all, Darfuri children began to draw their own messages. Not of peace, but of their memories of the attacks on their villages and what home used to be. They are filled with images of guns, helicopters, fire, soldiers shooting people in the back, and blood.
In January 2008, the panels were lost. On our way home from the refugee camps, we were caught in the middle of a violent attempt by Chadian rebels to overthrow their president. Gabriel, Jeremiah, Josh and I were evacuated by French military after being under fire for two days in N’Djamena. We had to leave almost everything behind, including the panels.
On the next i-ACT trip in June 2008, Gabriel and I were reunited with an old friend, Youssoff. Youssoff surprised us. He had held on to the panels and protected them. Once again we were caught by rebel movement and we failed to reach the refugee camps. This time, we kept the children’s drawings with us. Upon our return home, a tent of the canvas panels was sewn together for the November 2008 Tents of Hope gathering in Washington DC. The school kids of Petaluma also got to see the panels and a few were re-connected with their own panel, now with a message from a Darfuri friend.
For more than a year, we have brought the remaining panels with us to workshops, panels, events, and Camp Darfur exhibits across the country to help tell the children’s stories. By using them during our presentations, we realized that collectively the panels tell the entire story of Darfur. It is the children and their drawings that inspired the creation of MY HOME.