Monday, August 24, 2009

Togonese Refugee Camp

Richard and I walking through the refugee camp. We look like journalists :)

Last weekend my friend Jess, who is the Dental Team Coordinator, told me about a special clinic the dental team was holding in a refugee camp. I was able to visit the camp on Friday.

I was surprised and a bit confused to learn their was a Togonese refugee camp in Benin. Togo is a bordering country and the location of the next field service. To my knowledge, things were relatively stable. It wasn't unstable like Liberia, which had just ended a 14 year civil war.

At the camp, I learned the full story. Four years ago the president of Togo died. He had served as president for 38 years. After his death, his son commandeered the presidency. The refugees were a part of the political party that opposed the son, seeing it as an undemocratic election. Initially, there was over 12,000 refugees living in the camp. Today, four years later, 3,000 still live there. Many still have not received papers from the Red Cross that officially declare them refugees, which has bound them to the camp. They can't leave or work without that status.

The camp possessed a certain beauty, despite being what the developed word would consider extremely poor living conditions. It was very clean, flowers were planted on people's "patios", and their was even a few art displays. Everyone took pride in what had become their home. You could see it.

My friend Richard and I were given a tour by a women who lives in the camp with her family. She took us to her "house" and we sat and talked with her and her husband. Richard asked if they had any plans to leave the camp and return to Togo. They told us the answer depended upon the outcome of the Presidential election taking place in Togo in February. If the elections were democratic, they would return. If not, on principle, they would stay in the camp.

I was amazed by their conviction. They believed what was happening in their government was wrong, and they were willing to risk their lives for it. I was also quite humbled. I waste so much time worrying about the future, who I am going to be and what I am going to accomplish. They don't even get to have those dreams. They have a glimmer of hope that they will return to their country in February. If not, they will be stuck in the camp. There are no other dreams to be had.

A line in a Cross Movement song says, "Are you ready to do in the name of Truth, what the world might do for a lie."

I look at the sacrifice of that family for a political belief. Something far less superior to an eternal destiny. And I wonder, would I make that sacrifice for the sake of Truth?

Photos of the camp here

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