As Americans, we often hear about challenges Africans confront, but we don’t always understand what we can do to help. When I heard about the crisis in Darfur, I knew I had to get involved. In 2007, I decided to see firsthand how the conflict in Darfur was affecting its people. I traveled to eastern Chad with Enough Co-founder John Prendergast and Enough Policy Advisor Omer Ismail to find out what I could do to help. I was not prepared for what I experienced when I arrived.
I met with families who had been forced from their homes in Darfur by militias. They traveled for days, sometimes weeks, on foot to arrive at refugee camps across the border in Chad. I couldn’t help wondering, “What if our roles were reversed?” I asked many of the refugees I spoke with what I could do as an American, and they all asked for one thing: education. I was shocked to find that many of the camps did not have secondary schools, which are equivalent to high schools in America. For most Darfuris, education is the best path away from the suffering that has come to characterize their lives. In the camps in Chad, there is hope that educating the current generation will allow young people to lead a better community once they return home to Darfur. I met children who wanted to be president and have careers as doctors and teachers, but most immediately, all of the kids want to be students.
When I returned home, I knew something had to be done immediately to give the Darfuri refugee children the education that inspires their dreams. The Darfur Dream Team Sister Schools program seeks to improve the education of Darfuri students living in camps, through the construction and rehabilitation of school buildings, teacher training, and provision of sports equipment and other school supplies. By linking Darfuri refugee schools to schools in the United States through letter exchanges and video blogging, the Sister Schools program also fosters cross-cultural relationships and mutual understanding between American and Darfuri students. I am challenging students in American high schools to join together and help bring the gift of education to their peers in Darfuri refugee camps.
In honor of World Refugee Day this year, I am excited to announce that I’ve decided to cover the cost of operations for the Ocampo School in Djabal camp, one of 12 schools in eastern Chad that the Darfur Dream Team plans to support during the 2009-2010 school year. More than 30 American high schools, middle schools, and universities have also teamed up to raise the funds to support a second school. I’m thrilled to join all of these U.S. schools in the effort to raise money so that students in the Darfuri refugee camps will have better facilities, teachers, and more supplies.
I’ve also helped recruit some other NBA players to join the Darfur Dream Team. So far, Baron Davis, Derek Fisher, Luol Deng, Jermaine O’Neal, and Etan Thomas have all pledged their support, and the movement is growing. The combined efforts of contentious athletes and passionate students are creating a dynamic force for change in the camps in eastern Chad. Together, we can help improve the quality of education students receive, providing both hope for their future and a better life right now.
Tracy McGrady is a professional basketball player for the Houston Rockets. When Tracy and his traveling companions from the Enough Project returned from Chad in 2007, they hatched the idea for the Darfur Dream Team’s Sister Schools program. Tracy’s journey to the Darfuri refugee camps in eastern Chad is chronicled in the movie 3 Points.