What an incredible day! A UN convoy escorted us to the refugee camp today – finally! (Picture this: a truckload of armed guards in the back of an open pick-up truck, followed by 6 Land Rovers loaded with people ready for a day of work at the camp.)
In May 2006 when JWW kicked off its support of the Solar Cooker Project and “adopted” the Iridimi refugee camp, I didn’t really believe we could outfit the 5000 families with solar cookers so fast, and I surely didn’t envision visiting the camp in eastern Chad. So arriving today was an unanticipated experience in more ways than one.
After having our “Permission to Circulate” papers checked, we went straight to the solar cooker workshop, where we were enthusiastically (to say the least!) greeted by the 15 or so women who work so diligently making the cookers. After hand shakes, hugs, smiles and a few photos, the work began. The women busily took their positions and suddenly the room turned into a serious manufacturing plant. Two women traced the cooker pattern with ball point pens and carefully cut out the cookers; two other women brushed gum arabic (glue) on the cardboard and smoothed the large pieces of foil onto them; and a seamstress sewed fabric into carrying bags to protect the cookers. Outside on the ground, one woman squatted while she stirred gum Arabic crystals in water to melt them with her bare hands (for hours), and the other hammered holes in the cookers in order to place eyelets (a recent improvement to the cookers, which helps steady them on windy days by attaching rocks to a string that is placed through the eyelets).
In the small, neat storage room we saw laminated photos of kids from LA decorating potholders; stacks of cardboard, cookers in carrying bags, fabric and other supplies. The women were so proud to show us all they had accomplished. And I felt a deep pride for the commitment of thousands of people in the US who have supported the project; people who have heard of these very women and have chosen to help them.
At the same time, my pride was mixed with overwhelming emotion for how much has been lost and how difficult the lives of my new “sisters” (as they call us) really are.
And then there are the children: when I spoke via satellite phone with my son Ezra today, he said, “I checked the website and you haven’t written anything in a few days.” Contrast a 10 year old in LA checking on his mom via the world wide web with the children I saw today: dozens of children, dressed in rags and 3 lone toys. One toy looked like the plastic top of a gasoline can that a 2 year old girl sucked on during the evaluation interview with her family, a rickety bicycle wheel provided entertainment for a young boy who pushed it through the sand; and a toy car made of aluminum soda cans amused another little boy. I couldn’t help but think of all the material items we and our children have and the different lives we lead.
Just as my dreams have come true in coming here to see this project to fruition, here’s hoping the refugees’ dream of going back to their homes in a safe and secure Darfur happens soon… or at least within our lifetime.