On the morning Fatna became a Darfuri refugee, she witnessed her husband being killed in her village's marketplace. Before he died, he told her, "Get the children and run!" With no real time to process what she had seen, she walked home, gathered her six children, and led them on foot for ten days across the desert to Chad. Since 2003, approximately 480,000 people have been killed and 2.8 million displaced in the Darfur Genocide.
When Katie-Jay Scott, i-ACT's Director of Operations and Community Involvement, met Fatna in 2008, she had already become well known to the i-ACT team. Katie-Jay asked to be introduced, and when they reached the refugee camp where Fatna lived with her children, they discovered that her tent was in tatters, cut into pieces intentionally so she and her children would have blankets.
The men who lived in the refugee camp had a system in place to help those who needed homes erect new tents, but there was a problem. Fatna would have to pay in, to contribute to the pool of money available to help build others' homes, to take part. Her family had no money and very little food.
Katie-Jay and her team pooled together the cash they had on hand and covered Fatna's contribution, ensuring that Fatna and her children's shelter would better keep out the elements.
i-ACT has many arms. They have multiple programs focused on activism, sports, and education in relation to the Darfuri refugees, a group Katie-Jay says feels increasingly overlooked as stories of other refugees, other atrocities, and support needed for natural disasters fills the news.
Because i-ACT has been helping the Darfuri population in Chad for so long, and because they focus on community centered solutions resulting from dialogues with the people they are helping, the organization has built a strong foundation of trust and a solid reputation as an aid organization. One unanticipated benefit is that Katie-Jay can see first-hand the building impact they've had in the refugee camps as well as the connections between the initiatives i-ACT has in place.
In May of this year, Katie-Jay noticed a familiar face in one of i-ACT's Facebook posts. It was Fatna's son, Ismail, who is now the back-up goalkeeper for Darfur United, an all-refugee soccer team and youth academy.
The Importance of Play
Katie-Jay loves the story of how it was revealed Ismail was Fatna's son. During tryouts, the i-ACT team noticed one of the goals had a really great spirit. On the last day, he brought a Polaroid of his mother that had been taken six years before, during Katie-Jay's visit to the camp. He told them, "I always knew that you would come back and you would never leave us."
i-ACT actively engages congress and creates exhibits to tie into genocide awareness and the plight of the Darfuri refugees as well as develops education and community-based initiatives that help people in the camps directly, but Katie-Jay stresses the importance of their soccer programs, which allows the youths involved to feel like part of a larger world community and lets them engage in much-needed play.
The i-ACT soccer programs also address a direct need the team saw when they visited the camps. Katie-Jay said, "Every time we went, there were [kids] playing soccer. They wanted to be able to play."
She describes the experience for soccer team members as therapeutic. "When you get on that soccer pitch, everything floats away. You're not a refugee, you're not hungry, you're not shunned from the situation you come from. You're just a soccer player."
To learn more about i-ACT or donate to their cause, you can visit their website, iactivism.org.