Mansur (10) took us to the little hut that is now his room. With mud walls and a straw roof, it is not as hot as the tents in which most refugees live, but it is still very hot. It takes a couple of minutes for our eyes to adjust to the darkness, and then the drawings that cover most of the back wall reveal themselves.
Mansur wanted us to see the drawings he made, representing the last memories he has of his village in Darfur. They show images of war: men dressed in soldier’s uniforms, riding in trucks with machine guns, shooting at the village. We see a small body in a corner of one drawing. “It is a baby that was shot and killed,” Mansur tells us.
Mansur is now a refugee at Farchana, waiting for the day he can return home to a safe Darfur. He wants to be a doctor, but there will be little for him to do once he finishes primary school at this camp. Like other young men living in refugee camps, he wants to find a way to move forward and help his family, but he might instead be driven to join the rebels and try to fight for their land. He would much rather be a doctor.
A beautiful wide-eyed little girl took my hand and led me to her tent. Her name is Guisma. She pulled out two notebooks and looked so proud in showing them to me. Although we did not speak the same language, I understood she was telling me that she loved to study and do school work. Her geometry work impressed me!
The next morning I walked with Guisma and many other children to school. Although they have been through horrible experiences—their villages destroyed, family killed—they are all cheerful in being able to go to school in Farchana refugee camp, which is now their home. When we got to the school, Guisma and her schoolmates participated in an assembly, with singing and speeches about life back in Darfur. After years of suffering, the children of Darfur still see hope and growth in continuing their education.
Jacob is a teacher in Darfur. He is now a school inspector. He is also a refugee. Jacob is one of the more than 2.5 million people displaced by the genocide in Darfur. Over 400,000 have died. Women and girls have been the victims of widespread rape. Starvation and disease are also killing many more of Jacob’s people.
Jacob now lives in Kounoungo refugee camp in Chad, near the Darfur border. He talks passionately about wanting to return home – when there is peace. He talks about building “a stronger Darfur,” and he sees education as one of the key tools in fighting the destruction of his society and culture.
When asked about how we, regular people from around the world, could help, he said that the children in his and other camps desperately need secondary education. Currently, there is only primary education in the camps. The boys and girls that graduate have no possibility of continuing their studies. They, like other young people around the world, wish to become teachers, engineers, doctors, and even the president of their country. They want to be a part of the future in a peaceful Darfur.
By helping Jacob and the children of Darfur to build a secondary-education school, we are helping in the rebuilding of their land and way of life. This school and education will go back to Darfur with them and so will we.
“My Name is Ahmat. I have 16 years old. I come from Darfur state. Now, I am a refugee. I live in Kounoungo.” That is how Ahmat introduced himself when we met him on our first i-ACT trip to the Chad-Darfur border in 2005. He talked about life in a peaceful Darfur, about being happy, playing football and dancing with friends, and about being together with family. Ahmat is charismatic and bright. He wanted so much to continue his education, but he had finished primary school, and there are not secondaryeducation schools in the refugee camps.
He wanted to continue to grow, learn more skills, and improve on his English, so that he could then help his family, who have lost all that they had to the brutal violence of the genocide in their land.
We kept in contact with Ahmat, through aid workers and UNHCR. He made friends and corresponded with students in the United States. He joined, longdistance, their Student Task Force and dreamt about being able to have the educational opportunities that his new friends had.
On our second i-ACT trip in 2006, we brought with us a care-package from the Student Task Force to Ahmat. The packet could not reach him at this time because Ahmat had left for Darfur. His family told us that he had gone back to look for one of the few standing towns that might still have an operating secondary school.
The small help that we might offer will be huge and long lasting for a people that has suffered unimaginable horrors and continue to be in danger.
Ahmat is still inside of Darfur. He is risking his life, as the genocide rages on, so that he can continue his studies and someday be a part of rebuilding a stronger Darfur.