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Chad: a committed partner in a volatile region.

Reminding oneself of the beauty that Africa holds close to its heart is a rare treat when serving at a hardship post, especially in a country that has been beset by as much turmoil as Chad. Thanksgiving Day weekend 2014 was one of those moments. For the group of American embassy employees who ventured out to Chad's Zakouma National Park, the safari camp that served as a rest stop with all its modern amenities was part primordial oasis and part proving ground for a U.S. mission success story.

First and foremost, the park was a stunning feast for the eyes with herds of giraffe, water buffalo and hyenas; lazy crocodiles; colorful exotic birds everywhere; elephants and many baboons mingling among them all. It was a setting fit for a world-class, eco-friendly nature preserve, which is just what the Chadians are intent on developing.

Zakouma National Park's elephant populations are recovering from a devastating surge in poaching in the mid-2000s, which killed thousands of them. A four-week training exercise led by 15 U.S. Marines from the Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force Africa, with Chadian park rangers and a 2014 alumnus of the International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP), helped ensure that not one elephant has been poached there in the past three years. The 100 proud graduates of this program are now agents of Chad's environmental-crime mobile brigade, fighting poaching and ivory trafficking. Embassy N'Djamena's pol/ econ section and office of security cooperation made this training possible, since mission priorities include protecting wildlife and cutting off terrorists' funding, which trafficking supports.

Situated at the edge of the Sahara desert and equidistant from the Mediterranean and the Gulf of Guinea, Chad is landlocked. Chad's economy continues to develop and diversify away from dependence on oil revenues, which have been hard hit by the decline in oil prices.

N'Djamena, or "We Rest" in Chadian Arabic, offers a profusion of bougainvillea, frangipani and other tropical flora, but is also a bustling, multilingual city. The embassy's 450 American and Chadian employees carry on apace--often simultaneously in French, Arabic and English--while the post's profile and responsibilities continue to grow. Most government offices, commercial establishments and mission-occupied residential villas, many with pools, are in the modern town, while the more traditional homes of mud brick and thatched roofs are in the Quartiers Populaires.

Countering violent extremism (CVE) is a key issue in the region, both with Boko Haram and the instability in Libya to the north. Thus, Embassy N'Djamena is very active in CVE projects with funding coming from State, USAID and DOD resources through bilateral and regional mechanisms such as the Trans-Sahara Counterterrorism Partnership. Often referred to as "an island in a sea of instability," Chad plays an important role in leading regional efforts to combat Boko Haram in Nigeria and the U.N.-led stabilization mission in Mali. The U.S. military launched its Flintlock 2015 training exercise in Chad in February with armies from across Africa. Some 1,300 participants from 28 countries took part.

Also, a regional USAID Peace through Development (PDev) project to build up resilience to violent extremism engages the nation's youth, promotes community governance and strengthens moderate voices. PDev created four community radio stations with programming for youth and governance programs, allowing moderate messaging to reach a large audience in zones considered susceptible to extremism. After witnessing the impact of this program, the embassy identified additional funding managed by the Bureau of African Affairs to establish more stations, bringing the total to 13.

Other mission efforts are directed at strengthening good governance and respect for human rights, addressing humanitarian needs and economic development, promoting women's and girls' rights, and increasing outreach to youth and to the Muslim population.

Chad is a secular state with a Muslim majority that practices a moderate form of Islam. Chadians take pride in the peaceful coexistence of Christians and Muslims and actively promote tolerance and diversity. The embassy supports locally initiated efforts at organizing interfaith dialogue. It has also funded programs to promote tolerance among religious leaders and training to Chadian teachers on active learning methods that foster creative thinking skills and civic values such as tolerance, nonviolence and human rights. A double exchange program with American and Chadian imams opened eyes and minds to the manner in which religious freedom is practiced in the United States. As one of the returned imams noted, "Americans believe that their country is for everyone and that religion is a personal issue. No one has the right to force others to accept a specific religion, yet Americans are a religious people."

The post's work to promote women's empowerment will positively affect Chad's political and economic development. The post regularly organizes programs for both established and aspiring women leaders, such as Women Entrepreneurs and Women's Leadership seminars. A dozen local women leaders attended an April 2015 roundtable with a congressional delegation led by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand. Participants included several alumnae from the Young African Leaders Initiative/Mandela Washington Fellowship (YALI) and the IVLP

"Our goal is to help prepare more women to run for office in anticipation of Chadian elections," said Ambassador Dr. James Knight. The Ambassador's Special Self-Help Program prioritizes small grants that benefit women in villages throughout Chad, such as the purchase of a grinding mill in one such village, which relieved women of hours of hard labor. Programs for girls emphasize the importance of education, discourage early marriage and warn of HIV/AIDS, gender-based violence and female genital mutilation. The Women2Women program connects teens in the U.S. and the Arab Muslim world and has benefitted 18 Chadian girls since 2012.

English is important for Chad's future to prepare young Chadians to compete in the global marketplace and strengthen democratic institutions. To increase the pool of future candidates for U.S.-sponsored exchange programs, the public affairs section actively promotes English teaching and use through various programs. N'Djamena's English Access Micro-scholarship Program for talented [13-to-20-year-olds] from economically disadvantaged backgrounds started with 100 students in 2006. Today, the two-year program has 420 graduates and 220 current students, equally divided by gender and religion. "It has been a huge success," said Ericka Nanadoumgar, Access program director. "You can see it in the changes in the students' academic development and lives; they do better in school, their behavior improved, and they have an air of self-discipline and politeness, ready to do community service in their neighborhoods." Parents, some of whom at first were hesitant to have their children enroll in the Access program, now are so proud and, at times, emotionally moved by their children's quick transformation.

Embassy N'Djamena supports the government of Chad's efforts to protect and shelter nearly 500,000 refugees from Sudan, Central African Republic (CAR) and Nigeria fleeing violence in their homelands, plus another 100,000 vulnerable Chadian nationals who fled violence in the CAR in 2013-2014. True to its "island of stability" virtue, Chad has hosted refugees from CAR and the Darfur region of Sudan for more than a decade and continues to meet the inflows. Embassy N'Djamena and the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration mobilized more than $55 million in FY14 funds to assist the humanitarian refugee response. Sharing the Chadian government's commitment to identifying durable solutions for the most vulnerable refugees, Ambassador Knight has championed efforts to greatly increase the number of refugees being resettled to the United States.

Embassy staff are very involved in the local community. The American Corner's English Club is very popular. There, volunteers on Saturday mornings provide adult members with conversation experience and exposure to U.S. culture and history. Others are involved with a small orphanage outside N'Djamena with which the embassy has had a long-standing relationship. It supports 59 children from infants to age 18 who were abandoned, victims of trafficking, removed from abusive situations or whose families are too poor to support them. It provides schooling for the neighborhood's poor children and also advocates for children who are victims of trafficking in persons, filing legal cases against traffickers. Since there is no government subsidy for orphanages, it relies solely on donations of private individuals and NGOs. During the Flintlock exercise, AFRICOM staff gave the children medical screenings, repaired and built new furniture, and arranged for substantial donations to aid the orphans.

Last July, construction began on a more functional, safe and secure embassy complex to accommodate the needs of this rapidly growing post. Due for completion in late 2016, the new facility will transform the workplace and make a difference in the lives of all staff. Embassy N'Djamena is not a mirage, but is positioning itself to be a sustainable oasis in the Sahara desert and to serve as a solid platform for proactive diplomacy.

At a Glance Chad

Capital: N'Djamena

Government Type: Republic

Area: 1,284,000 sq km

Population: 11,412,107

Languages: French, Arabic, Sara, more than 120 dialects

Religions: Muslim 53%, Catholic 20%, Protestant 14%, animist 7%, other or unknown 6%

GDP per capita: $2,600

Export partners: U.S., Japan, India

Import partners: China, Cameroon, France, Belgium, India

Currency: Central ./African CFA franc

Internet country code: .td

By Julie Nickles, public affairs officer, Embassy N'Djamena
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Title Annotation:Post of the Month
Author:Nickles, Julie
Publication:State Magazine
Date:Jul 1, 2015
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