In this video, Ibrahim, a literacy teacher at the Bredgin refugee camp in eastern Chad, talks about the importance of learning to read and write Massalit.
The Massalit are refugees from the DarFur region of Sudan. It is a cross-boarder community, so some also have permanent residence in Chad. An SIL team has been assigned to eastern Chad to provide guidence to a literacy program.
“The reason that I’m back in Africa is because I left a piece of my heart here and [now] I’m here to get it back,” Eunice Kua said with a glint in her eye. Not only is Eunice back in Africa, she is in a remote village in eastern Chad called Hadjer Hadid working with refugees from Sudan—an environment for which her background rather unexpectedly prepared her.
Eunice, who is Chinese, was born and raised in Malaysia, a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural and multilingual society. “It was after having been in the USA, where I studied Library Science, that I saw that Malaysia has a lot to offer in terms of its diversity. You grow up aware of differences but being comfortable with it.” It was during three-week volunteer program in South Africa with her university that Eunice got her first taste of life in Africa.
Eunice is now part of a small multi-national team who are providing guidance to a literacy program for the displaced Massalit people of Darfur. Her upbringing, coupled with experience living in a Western culture, has become an ideal platform for this work.
Angela Prinz from Germany is the team leader. She confirms that Eunice had a head start coming here. “Having come from Malaysia makes Eunice’s adjustment to living here much easier. She comes from a predominantly Muslim country so her understanding of the religion helps.” The Massalit are almost entirely Muslim. “Also, because of her Malay, Arabic comes easily.” Eunice adds, “And, English helps with French. The more languages you know the easier it is to learn.” According to Angela, her colleague is indeed a quick learner as, along with the Arabic and French, she is learning the Massalit language remarkably quickly.
Marthinus Steyn, a team member from South Africa, further substantiates Eunice’s quick adjustment to this foreign environment. “Eunice has no problem with the different foods here and as a result has not become ill like the rest of us. This really is a big help because this drains your energy and can take away from your work.”
Along with religion, language and food, Eunice found the cultural adjustment a fairly easy one as well. “Asian and African cultures share quite a few similarities. One is the respect for elders.” A further similarity is hospitality. “People feel free to drop in for a visit all the time which reminds me of home except these days [back home] you’re not sure if the person will actually be in or not,” Eunice said with a chuckle.
Even though Eunice has slotted into her new environment with relative ease, she did face some struggles in the first few months. One of these was unexpectedly having to live alone. “My first house mate left for two months and it was tough being alone in a new place, especially at night.” Then of course, there were the cultural adjustments. “Adjusting to a new place and culture makes you [mentally] tired. Oh, and learning three new languages at once does take it out of you.”
Eunice has no doubt that there will be future challenges. However, she feels secure knowing that this is where God wants her to be, and He will continue to equip her to face these challenges just as He has so far.
Photos (from the top):
Eunice talking with Massalit women at the Treguine refugee camp. Photo by Heather Pubols.
Angela, Marthinus and Eunice pray together after a team meeting. Photo by Zeke du Plessis.
Eunice at the Hadjer Hadid market.Photo by Zeke du Plessis.
Video (by Zeke du Plessis): Eunice is going over a lesson on reading and writing Massalit with Yaya, the guard at her compound. It is the first time that Yaya has written these words.
This video is of a song that Jimiye, a Massalit literacy teacher from the Treguine refugee camp in eastern Chad, composed for and about Angela. Angela leads the SIL team that is helping the Massalit living in eastern Chad with their literacy program.
On January 24 we attended a literacy celebration at the Bredjin refugee camp in eastern Chad. The community gave the SIL team we were visiting a sheep to take home as a thank you gift. Jennie and I, along with the other human passengers, shared the back of the truck with that sheep on the bumpy ride home. I’ve ridden in the back of trucks before, but never shared the space with livestock on a bumpy sandy road. It was actually quite an entertaining experience. One of the bumps landed the sheep in my lap.
Jennie named the sheep Lucky. About a month later he was the main course at a celebration feast. Lucky for the guests, but not so lucky for him!
The Masalite already have a written language and a beginning reading primer. The SIL team is providing the community with linguistic consultation and helping to train the literacy teachers. The local communities are taking the lead in coordinating and conducting the actual literacy classes.
At the Bredjing and Treguine refugee camps we attended ceremonies where those that have completed the Masalite reading primer received certificates. There seemed to be a lot of enthusiasm for education and the Masalite literacy classes. The SIL team is now thinking about what other literature they could work with community leaders to make available in Masalite. Having a body of literature is a key to sustaining literacy over time because why would you keep reading if you’ve already read everything there is to read? It will be interesting to see how this literacy program will continue to develop.
Eunice has been providing some personal tutoring to the guard at their compound. I was able to see her going through the literacy primer with him. Later in the evening, he showed what he had learned by writing several words on a blackboard. He was laughing with excitement while he wrote each word he had learned in Masalite.
I’ve already talked about the harsh environment here. It might make some want to give up. But, I continue to feel the love that this team has for the people here–God’s love that they are sharing with this community.
When we were at one of certificate ceremonies, I came across this random plastic chair that said “Love of God.” It really affected me at that moment just thinking about how God loves the Masalite, how He knows of their suffering, and how He’s using some of His servants to help them.