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Why I Traveled to Darfuri Refugee Camps

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I recently returned from spending two weeks in Darfuri refugee camps in eastern Chad as a member of the Darfur Dream Team, or DDT, Sister Schools Program. DDT works with U.S. schools and donors to support refugee education and build connections between American students and their Darfuri peers. You can watch some of my volunteer work below.

Many of the nearly 300,000 Darfuri refugees have lived in the camps since the Darfur conflict ignited in 2003. Fadlah, a Darfuri refugee and grandmother, described the camp to me as “an open prison.” As refugees, she explained, they are limited in their capacity to provide for themselves; without access to land, excess water, resources, tools, jobs, commerce, and security, they are dependent on local and international NGOs for nearly all of their basic survival needs.

The everyday challenges faced by the Darfuri refugees are unimaginable for most Americans, but despite their circumstances, everyone I met remained hopeful. A mother in Djabal camp told me, "I hope that my son is able to continue his education so that he can make a life for himself and not have to experience the challenges and suffering of raising his children in a refugee camp.”

Their hope is fueled by the prospect and power of education: “With education our students can reach the sky and run our country; without it, they cannot. What the Darfuris will build in the future will be well thought about and well built. Ignorance will bring more damage; education will bring development. Life without education is darkness; education is like a sun for the universe,” said Umda Tarbosh, a teacher in Goz Amer camp.

After eight years in the camps, education remains one of the refugees’ highest unmet needs. Such needs include sufficient classroom space, chalkboards, textbooks, workbooks, qualified teachers and teaching materials, uniforms, and more. To fill the gap, the Darfur Dream Team has worked with American students and donors to raise more than $500,000 for refugee education since 2009. We’ve already implemented funds in Djabal camp and over the next year will be implementing in Goz Amer camp. I visited the schools in both camps and the differences are evident: The atmosphere in Djabal is more like a school, students have more resources, and teachers appear less overwhelmed.

When I was leaving Goz Amer camp, Umda Tarbosh, the teacher, said, “The support by Americans is something that the students and teachers cannot forget—it will go into Darfuri history… Education is important for rebuilding Darfur and reducing ignorance." Seeing the initial impact that DDT funds have in Djabal excites me for what we have planned for education improvements in Goz Amer. We still have work to do in both camps, but it is inspiring and motivating to see the impact of the Sister Schools Program.