Thoughts from Gihembe

Yesterday we visited the Gihembe refugee camp, and the experience could not have been more different than I expected. On the drive there I found myself attempting to temper some anxiety- I think I expected it to be too sad, too challenging, and I was nervous. However, once we get there, I instantly knew that it would be okay. Dozens upon dozens of children surrounded our bus, shouting and waving and grinning ear to ear. When we got out they piled on us, fighting over who got to hold our hands, rubbing our skin, touching our hair.  They were thrilled to use little bits of English- “Good morning!” “How are you?” “Fine, thank you!” “What is my name?” (meaning “what is your name?”). I had a group of about five little girls (and some boys here and there) who followed me the whole time. We sang and joked and exchanged names, and then they discovered that if one of them made a silly face I would make one in return, and they were thrilled- dragging their friends to the front of the group to show them. I adore children (back home I’ve worked at a summer camp for five years) and though I was sad to see the state of them- dirty, wearing old, torn clothes- I felt so happy to connect and play. These kids were not wallowing in misery because they live on a refugee camp, they were just being kids.

            We then had the opportunity to visit the family of Clovis, our main contact who lives in the camp. His mother and siblings all live in a very small home made of some sort of clay or mud. They were incredibly welcoming- he and his mother had known Drew for a few years and were very happy to see him. Though their home was incredibly small, it was very neat, with soccer posters hung on the walls (his younger brother is a big fan). I was struck by how happy these people were, and it made me think that if the United States could be exposed to these issues in less of a sad-eyes UNICEF commercial way and more of a human connection way we would understand them much better. When we think of poor people as being “the poor” or “the less fortunate” we strip them of some humanity in our eyes and make them a faceless entity. These people weren’t faceless, they were real and tangible and happy and sad and alive. I felt honored to meet them and to be in their home.

            We performed our play for the first time in the basketball court in the camp. Kids sat on a hill to watch. I wish I could have seen them watch it, but Eve said they totally got it. They may not speak English, but the story comes through. Anne Frank’s story is their story, too. I was so glad to share it with them. A visit I was so nervous about ended up being perhaps one of the most memorable days we’ve had so far.