Hunger Stalks the Children of Africa

I’m back now from my trip to Uganda and Kenya, but the images of the children there keep stealing into my thoughts. Pictures of a tiny boy, 14 months old but looking like 4 months, a fragile little girl with stick arms crying on a small cot, a mother cradling her sick 8-month-old son whose wide eyes follow us as we move from bed to bed in the stabilization center. Most have intravenous ports taped to a foot or a hand. We visited all these children in the center in Habaswein, a dusty town in the northeast part of Kenya some 200km from the Somali border. The sun bakes everything brown, but the stabilization center is mercifully cooler. Ten mothers and their children are there today, on clean but sparse beds arranged in rows, some recovering, most in dire need of help for severe malnutrition and medical complications like pneumonia or diarrhea.

 

I’ll be candid: this is a very tough trip.

 

Our delegation, which includes our Board Chair Anne Mulcahy, Board members Henry McGee and Bill Haber, as well as Henry’s wife and daughter, visit each bed as the head of Save the Children’s health programs here explains the condition of the children. It is hard to concentrate on anything but the kids, so small and thin, some crying, others lying listlessly in the heat. We meet a boy, 13-months-old who has just been brought to the center. He weighs under 7 kilos, or a little over 14lbs. His eyes are half closed and he only responds when his mother picks him up to move him on his tiny blanket. I try to remember when my own sons

Easing Fatima’s Pain

David Klauber David Klauber, Save the Children Intern   

Melkadida Refugee Camp, Ethiopia

August 1, 2011


I looked into her eyes and if only for an instant, I was able to feel something of the weight of her pain.   The look of despair she wore has aged her far beyond her years; and yet she’s only a girl of thirteen.  When she told me, “the pain is so bad sometimes, I can’t sleep at night,” I found it hard to remember the next question to ask her, let alone to say it. 

When she lifted up her long patterned dress just enough to expose a foot, ankle, and shin that swelled to more than double the size of her other leg I realized that the look on her face doesn’t even begin to describe a modicum of the hardship she has faced in her short life.

Her mother told me that her daughter’s condition began nine years ago when she was only four years old. This condition began in a previous life in Somalia, and has followed her into the refugee camps of Ethiopia. She has been living in the Melkadida refugee camp for the last 16 months.

I can’t walk because it hurts so much,” she told me. “I can’t go to school. I stay around the tent.  Sometimes I wash clothes.”  She concentrates deeply for a moment and then for a second she brightens: “Oh, and I help look after my little brother and sisters.” But her stare then returned to the ground by her side, and her smile dissolved.  

Fatima and her family fled their home in Balad-Hawa, Somalia, because of the growing violence in and around their town. “That, and there was little food,” adds Fatima’s mother, Kada. “But we were lucky- we didn’t have to walk to Ethiopia. We rode on a donkey cart.  It took three days.”  Kada says. “Thanks to God, first that we have peace here in this place, no conflict, no war, no fighting. But again, the first thing that we require is treatment for my daughter. If she can’t get treatment here it would be better to just go back to Somalia.”

You’ve met Fatima because Save the Children’s child protection volunteers identified her a month and a half ago and have been conducting household visits ever since. The Child Protection program (operating now in three of the refugee camps) works to identify and register unaccompanied minors, separated children, and extremely vulnerable children to provide them with emotional support through linkages to foster families, counseling, and referrals. In Fatima’s case, Save the Children will refer her to proper outside medical treatment, funding her transport and medical bills. 

“I just want to get medicine and treatment for my leg,” Fatima told me. “Only that. Then I can go to school.” My heart sunk and my throat tightened.  But I do feel hope for her…there is definitely hope.

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