World Refugee Day is recognized each year on June 20, and the days leading up to the commemoration are always a popular time for organizations working on refugee and displacement issues to roll out their latest statistics and take stock of the past year. The updates this week about the world’s 43 million uprooted people are grim:
— The U.N. refugee agency, or UNHCR, announced in its Global Trends report that the total number of displaced people in the world is the highest it’s been since the mid-1990s.
— At the same time, UNHCR said that the number of refugees voluntarily returning to their home countries fell to its lowest level in 20 years.
— Ongoing conflict in the Darfur region of Sudan has prevented the 250,000 refugees living in neighboring Chad to return home. Some have lived in the camps in eastern Chad for more than seven years.
In recognition of these challenges, the Enough Project and its Darfur Dream Team highlight the enormous potential that exists among the children who make up more than 60 percent of the Darfuri refugee communities. Second only to a desire to return home, many of the children living in the camps say that they long for a quality education. “The education is very important to us in the future,” said one student at the Obama school in a letter he wrote to the U.S. president. “If we haven’t the secondary school we could not rule our country” when we return to Darfur, he wrote.
Inspired to help develop this potential after visiting Darfuri refugee camps in 2007, NBA star Tracy “T-Mac” McGrady and Enough’s John Prendergast co-founded the Darfur Dream Team. The organization now combines the forces of T-Mac and his co-captains – professional basketball players Derek Fisher, Baron Davis, Luol Deng, Etan Thomas, and Jermaine O’Neal –partner organizations, and a growing network of American sister schools to raise awareness and funds to help make the vision for a quality education system possible.
Students and alumni of Georgetown and Duke Universities, businessman Ted Leonsis, and NBA star Tracy McGrady are commemorating the day by announcing that they jointly raised the funds to sponsor a Darfuri refugee camp school. The students raised $21,661, and Ted Leonsis, Georgetown University board member and owner of the Washington Wizards, Mystics, and Capitals, matched the funds. (Read the full press release here.)
Vice President of Strategic Development at Georgetown Dan Porterfield said, "Georgetown is proud that our students, alums, and basketball fans, led by STAND and Ted Leonsis, teamed up to create a new school for 2,000 refugee children from Darfur. The international community must not forget that these families have been displaced from their homes, their land, and their culture. New schools offer hope and the opportunity for displaced children to develop their talents.”
More than 200 U.S. schools participate in the Darfur Dream Team Sister Schools program, which connects middle schools, high schools, and colleges with schools in the 12 Darfuri refugee camps in eastern Chad. In just its first year, the Sister Schools program raised $649,000 in donations and pledges to support schools in the camps. The Dream Team has partnered with UNHCR on the ground in eastern Chad to implement the program.
Follow the Darfur Dream Team today on Twitter as Sister Schools manager Stella Kenyi, Enough Co-founder John Prendergast, and I attend World Refugee Day events in D.C., featuring well-known advocates such as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres (in a live feed from an Iraqi refugee camp in Syria), former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, and U.N. Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie. We’ll be tweeting @enoughproject.