Nikki Dryden is a two-time Canadian Olympic swimmer and human rights lawyer. She is also an athlete ambassador for several organizations that use sport to promote development and peace, including Team Darfur.
Prior to the 2008 Olympics, Nikki appeared on behalf of Team Darfur as an athlete and human rights expert on television and radio, and met with government and institutional leaders. She pushed the IOC and the Chinese Government to be held accountable for upholding the Olympic Truce and the founding Olympic values as they pertained to the people of Darfur.
Professionally, Nikki has worked in both Kenya and Sri Lanka to help safely resettle refugees from across Africa and South Asia. She has also worked to secure political asylum in the United States for those refugees fleeing persecution and torture from around the world.
June 3, 2009
I am on Day 4 of 5 of my Refugee Rations-only diet. While I feel lucky to be eating even the smallest amounts of food, the diet is bland and I find myself craving salt, flavoring, and anything that seems alive: fruit, vegetables, specifically something green or orange. In fact I crave anything but the beige rice, oatmeal, and lentils that I have been eating for the last four days.
When I am not thinking about food, I am thinking about how my body feels. As an athlete I am very in tune with my body. Although I am no longer in elite shape, I still take cues from my body to tell me when I am overstressed, overworked, or not well. I take happiness in feeling energetic and strong. However today I feel none of these things. My mind wanders easily and I keep forgetting what I am doing. I can’t concentrate, I don’t want to work, and I am functioning at half speed. Am I just tired from work? Or is it really a lack of food that makes me fall into bed as if I have just finished a day of double work-outs, with 4 hours of swim practice.
Then I think of the internally displaced people in Darfur and the refugees who have fled to neighboring countries. Last year when I worked for the Australian Government as a refugee visa officer I interviewed over 300 refugees from across Africa in 3 months. I heard story after story of torture and persecution. But more often than not, I heard stories of life in the refugee camps. Some were still in harms way, suffering violence and discrimination and even persecution within the camps. Still others would refuse to stay there, saying it was better to live in the dangerous neighborhoods of Nairobi where more than one of the women I interviewed was raped, than to live in a refugee camp.
Whether it is fear of violence, insufficient nutrition, poor sanitation or lack of opportunity, I have heard many stories of what life is like in a refugee camp. Today I go to sleep feeling exhausted and hungry, but I am safe. I have a roof over my head, clothes on my body, a family whose location I know, and the physical ability and secure environment to do whatever I need to do to survive. I wish only that every refugee from Darfur could feel this way tonight too.