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During my recent three-week trip to eastern Chad to visit the Darfuri refugee camps Djabal and Goz Amer, I had lots of conversations. The meetings under trees, in classrooms, and community centers throughout the camps made me realize how much I took education and what it means for granted. The ability to read, write, count, speak, understand an official language, and comprehend the world around me—these are abilities so integrated into daily life that I rarely stop to consider them as skills. And I think a large number of us do the same without realizing it. We understand the need and importance of education, yet we underestimate its power and potential to radically improve the human existence.
The time I spent in Djabal and Goz Amer refugee camps in Chad served as a great reminder of how education changed my life. Thanks to the education I received, I can shape the kind of life and future I want for myself. Education laid the foundation for the development of this competency and opened the door to a life of learning and possibilities. Access to quality education that lays the groundwork for a good life and a bright future should not be closed to those who are living in dire humanitarian conditions, such as the camps for Darfuri refugees in eastern Chad.
Each day I spent in the camps made me realize that my own passion for education was surpassed by students, teachers, and community members I met with in Djabal and Goz Amer. They shared their stories and discussed their needs with me, and it was a truly humbling experience. They enthusiastically communicated their belief in the power of education to change their lives. Students who wanted to become doctors, politicians, diplomats, engineers, and pilots had visualized their lives beyond the refugee camps and knew education was the way to achieving their goals; teachers who were students themselves described why they wanted to continue learning. These dreams deserve to be nurtured in a space where they can discover, explore, and learn. So many refugees I talked to used the words like enriching, hope, life, future, honor, change, goals, human rights, happiness, desperation, thirst, and knowledge in relation to what education meant to them.
During my visit, I saw firsthand the impact of the funding cuts on education as well as the difference funding can make in the camps: Seeing bright, open classrooms where students can learn without withering from the stifling heat or sitting on hot sand; teachers wearing uniforms that made them proud to stand in front of their students, and having chairs to sit in while grading the exercises of 70 or more students. Seeing students walking around with notebooks and having access to textbooks and dictionaries. Having witnessed this positive impact then makes seeing the remaining crumbling classrooms, the students being taught outside under tents or trees, and the lack of textbooks and other school supplies disheartening.
Every year, the schools need textbooks, notebooks, chalks, new benches, and more classrooms. Reduced funding makes it very difficult to address these needs. Next year, the education budget for the refugee camps in eastern Chad will be reduced by 25 percent. The funds from the Darfur Dream Team Sister Schools Program made it possible to minimize the negative impact of reduced funding on primary education in Goz Amer this year.
The conversations with the students and teachers were filled with gratitude as well as exhortations to continue to make quality education a reality in the camps. I told them I would share this message with the schools and supporters in the United States. I am already inspired by the commitment of the schools throughout the United States and supporters who have answered the call and continue to make an investment in refugee education.
One teacher told me that after being chased out of Sudan, they now have family in the United States and they are no longer afraid and know that the family will help with what they can—a touching sentiment that stayed with me. Another teacher told me that the support is helping to build linkages between schools and students and promote peace in the world. The support of sister schools across the United States is the reason for this, and these sentiments shared during my various meetings make me proud of the work we do together. I also hope it strengthens your commitment to help meet the needs this year in Goz Amer.
To see more pictures and videos from my trip, please check out Darfur Dream Team’s Facebook page.