On Christmas Eve I learned that the troubles that had been brewing all fall in Chad had reached a point where all relief workers in the town I visited in October had been evacuated. With armed militias murdering people wholesale it had become just too dangerous to stay. The elaborate safety plans that we had rehearsed when I was there had been rolled out. This was not the Christmas present I had hoped for. The government of Chad declared a state of war with Sudan for "hosting " Chadian rebels.
While all this seems far away from America and family celebrations, I couldn't help worrying about the families I had spent time with in Chad. When you learn the names of the nameless faces in the photos it becomes a personal tragedy.
The mother and baby in this photo are Sudanese survivors of genocide. I spent a calm and almost blissful afternoon with them. The mother had given birth to this beautiful girl in a refugee camp in a foreign country that seemed safer than her home. She had suffered to get there and with amazing humanity and no self-pity had embraced the opportunity to improve herself in this somber camp. She had volunteered to train as a community health worker with the medical relief agency that hosted me. The day she finished her training she gave birth to this child born of conflict. She named her baby "Training" as a tribute to her new role.
With food from the World Food Program, medical care from my hosts and protection from the UN High Commission for Refugees, Training and her mother had a small prayer of survival in a hostile environment in a foreign country, albeit one of the poorest countries in the world. With the relief agencies gone their future is doubtful. Trapped in a camp on foreign soil, with murderous rebels all around I can hardly bare to imagine what awaits or has befallen this perfect and innocent baby and her 250,000 fellow refugees.
So what has this to do with us? Well just before Christmas Condolezza Rice in an uncharacteristic act of humanity asked Congress to assign $50 million to support the African Union to protect the Sudanese refugees of genocide. Congress refused. This was a tragic decision, an egregious mistake and I think we should all call on our elected officials to examine their consciences on this.
At a time of year when we celebrate the birth of an innocent child with religious piety, sanctimony and billions of dollars of pointless gift-giving, why can't we give the gift of a future to another innocent baby, one named Training? That would be a great New Year's gift.