I was about to write, “It seems so long ago that I was planning for the first i-ACT Expedition,” but, it WAS so long ago! It was 2005! Out here, UNHCR (the UN Refugee Agency) and NGOs call our trips, “missions.” It sounds romantic and dangerous. Looking back through our nine missions, there have been so many moments that have felt like Mission Impossible!
Using the word in its more common use, our mission from the start has been, to put a face on the numbers. Yesterday, during the Live Refugee Town Hall Meeting, it felt a bit surreal to know that people half-way around the world — anywhere in the world with an internet connection, actually — were listening and interacting with refugees that have been living in something of a limbo for over seven years.
The people in the camps have very strong opinions about what is happening in their country and what is happening in the camps. They have strong feelings about their present and their future. From the conversations during the Town Hall, so many things jump out at me.
One of the camp leaders spoke about how everything happening around the referendum in the South was bringing instability to Darfur, but that he still believed in the right of the Southern Sudanese to have their independence. He said that the people of the South are friends of Darfur.
Education. Education was the topic that came up the most. Darfuris value education, and they see it as the only link to a positive future.
Maybe the strongest answer and opinion came from a young woman who is in secondary school. She talked about how men in the camp just do not want girls to get their education, but that they want to continue studying and learning. She said that the mothers always push them to stay in school, but the fathers say that education does nothing for them. She wants to be a doctor.
Looking back from 2005, when we were trying to figure out how to “put a face on the numbers,” to yesterday, where Darfuris were able to speak live and directly to the world, I feel good and bad. It’s so rewarding to be doing this work and knowing that it’s exactly what I need to be doing, but it is also frustrating and disappointing that we are coming to these same camps. The people have not been able to go home, and there are so many issues that need to be resolved.