Darfur Refugees Celebrate Arrival of English Books

June 26 was a day for celebration in the Bredjing Refugee Camp in eastern Chad, as the Book Wish Foundation's first shipment of books from the Headway English course arrived. Despite serious security incidents in the area, which had paralyzed transportation, our partners on the ground, CORD, safely delivered the 269 books to the grateful Darfuris, who place so much hope in learning English.

Darfuri children celebrate arrival of English books donated by Book Wish FoundationDarfuri children at Zahara School, Bredjing Camp, eastern Chad celebrate the arrival of Headway English books donated by Book Wish Foundation. (PHOTOS: Anne Goddard)

To anyone who has followed the news from Darfur and eastern Chad, the smiles on the faces of these students should be thrilling. Individual donors to the project and sponsors Oxford University Press and Air France are directly responsible for this achievement. We hope that everyone who sees the conversion of donations into smiles will contribute to make a second shipment possible. The number of refugees studying English has been increasing, and will surely grow further, now that the highly successful Headway course is available.

Education Program Manager Anne Goddard of CORD described the scene that unfolded when the books arrived:

"I am sorry that you could not have been here to see how much fun we had this morning playing with new books. I briefly had to return to our base and as I left, everyone was perusing the books and trying to get one small step further ahead with their language studies. Even my driver shyly opened a book that he had been reading and asked me what a particular sentence meant."

Teachers display their new English books, donated by Book Wish FoundationTeachers in Bredjing Camp, eastern Chad display their new Headway English books, donated by Book Wish Foundation. The colorful shirts with the logos of Book Wish, CORD, and Oxford University Press were generously provided at volume discount by promotional imprinting specialists EverythingBags.com.

The students are not the only ones excited about the books. Headway includes special books for teachers, which help them to teach the course, and were donated free of charge by Oxford. They are especially important in the camps, because very few of the teachers have formal training — they are simply the best educated among the refugees. Many are also students, learning at a level higher than they teach. Anne explained the reaction of one of them:

"He has worked hard on his English over the last three years and is by far the best interpreter in Bredjing Camp. When he saw the books, his eyes lit up and I know that he cannot wait to teach from them — also to learn from them, as he is around the upper intermediate level."

Prior to the arrival of the Headway books, the refugees had been using whatever English books they could find, often decades old and in very short supply. Nevertheless, they were determined to succeed, and, in Bredjing Camp alone, about 400 met six nights a week to study. Sometimes, to help pay the teachers, they would offer commodities like bars of soap.

Young Darfuri women studying their new English books, donated by Book Wish FoundationSchool is not only for boys in the refugee camps, and these young women are studying their new Headway English books.

Their determination is born from the belief that learning English is a "road to freedom." It is hoped that some will be able to leave the camps and attend college in southern Sudan, where English is the language of classes and a pre-requisite for admission. Language skills can also increase occupational opportunities.

This road to freedom is, importantly, a one-way road. The knowledge the Darfuris gain can never be taken away, despite all the uncertainties of the present situation. They, who have lost so much, are creating permanence in their futures through education.

Less than $4,000 remains to be raised to meet our Headway goal. We are already well on our way to a second shipment (of about four), and ask for your support. With discounts from the publisher, every dollar you donate can purchase nearly seven dollars of books, so even the minimum donation of $5 will allow us to put a new English book in the hands of a refugee. Please donate and tell your friends about this opportunity to make a real difference in this crisis. If your workplace is involved in philanthropic efforts, please ask them to contact us to discuss how they can help and be recognized for their support.

Update: Our second shipment of Headway books has reached the refugee camps. Story and photos here.