Here are some photos from my recent visit to East Africa to support our food crisis and refugee relief efforts. You’ll see me with children at a
Check back to see the world through my eyes. You’ll watch amazing video clips of our relief workers in action and get to meet the children and families touched by their efforts. You can also see exclusive photos of me with the children we help and their champions.
Penelope Crump, Web Writer
Dolo Ado, Ethiopia
August 24, 2011
When I saw Mardya, my heart sank, then welled up and out to her. Mardya was little bigger than a newborn even though she had already had her first birthday.
The nurse told me she was diagnosed with severe acute malnutrition. Despite her serious condition, Mardya was alert and reached for me with her with tiny, thin fingers.
Mardya’s mother died shortly after she was born, leaving her and her five brothers and sisters. Her father was devastated and has been doing his best to care for his six motherless children. All his cows died in the drought – bankrupting the entire family. The loss of the herd also cost Mardya her only source of food. With no mother to nurse her, no cows to milk and no work for her father, Mardya became malnourished.
Severely malnourished babies like Mardya risk death due to total organ failure and must receive rehydration, nutrients and medications. Mardya was immediately admitted to a emergency nutrition center. She was fed fortified milk at least 8 times a day with loving care by the wonderful health workers and community volunteers I met at the center. She also received specialized medical care and supplements. She quickly gained two pounds and was released.
But just a few weeks later, Mardya caught a simple cold and it progressed to pneumonia. Thankfully, a Save the Children-trained health worker found out before it was too late. She was immediately brought back to the emergency center.
Sadly, Mardya lost all the weight she gained. Pneumonia caused her to rapidly lose muscle and fat, and food at home was still scarce.
In addition to therapeutic feeding, Save the Children nutrition experts recognized that Mardya would need much more support. They identified a community volunteer, a family friend and neighbor, who would help care for Mardya. She will receive more frequent visits and check-ups until she fully recovers.
Part of my heart remains with Mardya and a piece of me wishes I could have stayed to take care of her myself, but I know she is in good hands with my trusted colleagues and new friends in Ethiopia.
Lane Hartill, Director of Media and Communications
Dadaab Refugee Camp, Kenya
August 23, 2011
After a week in Dadaab, the world’s largest refugee camp, I realized something: Aid workers work day and night.
I’d wander over to the office at night and someone would be leaning into their computer, face aglow. There’s not a lot to do here in during down time. I asked a colleague what she did to unwind. “I listen to loud music,” she said flatly. Some retreat to quiet corners and Skype with family members far away. Others run around the perimeter of the United Nations compound, calves burning as they churn through the soft sand.
What did I do? I stretched out in my tent and made lists. I have one in front of me now. It’s all the people I met in Dadaab.
I’d like you to meet five of them. Their stories are the jaw droppers you hear in the camp. But their spirit, drive and kindness are the qualities that you see in the camp but rarely read about.
- Hussein has resilience. I met the 13 year old Somali boy sitting outside of the Save the Children office. He’d recently arrived in the camp and was living with a sister. He tried out his limited English with me, then we fell into a conversation about airplanes based solely on sign language. It was clear that his sister was having a hard time supporting him. His T-shirt was badly stained and his pants didn’t fit. He shined shoes in the market, a smart business move given the constant blowing dust and sand. He happily showed me a scar on his leg he got from thugs in Somalia. Despite his tough life, he was all smiles. Save the Children was helping him and he’d just received a new red T-shirt.
- Noor has perseverance. He’s the proud owner of the "Praise God" boutique in Ifo market, a spacious zinc shed with piles of tomatoes and onions on display. Not long ago, before he got involved in the Save the Children fresh food voucher project, Noor was struggling. Customers weren’t buying his paltry selection of dry goods. Even he admits, his selection stunk. He’d make around $2 profit on a good day. Not exactly enough money to feed nine children. But now, thanks to Save the Children, he makes $10 a day and customers flock to him for his potatoes, tomatoes and onions. Save the Children’s fresh food voucher projects has changed his life.
- Najib has a personality that won’t quit. I met him at the child friendly space in Hagadera. He was clearly the big man on campus despite the fact he didn’t weigh 40 pounds. He had a personality that filled the room and dance moves that would make Justin Timberlake jealous. And not an ounce of stage fright. He belted out Somali tunes, while strutting in front of a crowd of fans (kids sitting on the floor). And just think: Not long ago, Najib arrived alone in the camp. The child friendly space has brought him out of his shell. Najib, I could tell, has a bright future.
- Rose has patience. She runs Save the Children’s Dadaab operation. She’s makes decisions that affect the lives of thousands of refugees every day. These challenges would send weaker women running for the comforts of the city. But Rose is never crabby or flustered. She’s passing this cool demeanor on to her children. Consider this: Her 4-year-old daughter, who is cared for by a relative while Rose is in Dadaab, saw hungry Kenyans on TV and refused food. She had enough food, she declared, and wanted to give it to those in need. Rose convinced her people in need were being helped, that she needed to eat. She relented. One thing is clear: she has her mom’s heart.
- Ibrahim has heart. Ibrahim Adan, 48, is a wiry man who favors T-shirts and sarongs, the typical outfit for many Somali men. He grew up in Somalia and used to raise camels, goats and cattle. But the conflict drove him to Kenya in the early 1990s. He now sells chickens in the market in Dadaab. But sit with Ibrahim for a while and you realize his real skill is parenting. And multitasking. One child swings in his sarong like a hammock, while Ibrahim disciplines another outside and answers questions from a guest. He’s been a foster parent for Save the Children for the last few years. He has five children of his own and four foster children. Why does he foster kids? Growing up in Somalia his parents were foster parents to 12 children. “Now I’m on the same path,” Ibrahim told me. “Whether you are a Christian or a Muslim,” he told me, “When you see someone suffering, you need to step in and help.”
David Klauber, Save the Children Intern
Dolo Ado Refugee Transit Center, Ethiopia
August 19, 2011
Magala Hafow, 34, has lived in Ethiopia for exactly 23 days. She is one of the thousands of Somali refugees who have fled their home to seek food and safety in the refugee camps across the Ethiopian border. The journey from Somalia to Ethiopia often entails great peril for asylum seekers who must walk for days on end to reach the border with little food and water. For Magala, this journey was particularly scary. She is the mother of three boys, ages 4, 5, and 10, and is five months pregnant. While giving birth to her 5-year-old, she developed a severe eye problem, which has deteriorated to the extent that she cannot see well. She says that she is gradually going blind.
But despite these tremendous obstacles, deciding to make the difficult journey from their home to Ethiopia was very simple. “We came here because I was scared for my children,” she says. “It was the only option we had. Because of the drought there is no food in Somalia; children were dying of hunger. I just want to get food and medicine for my children.” She describes witnessing the landscape around her small town, Kasa Hadere, transform into desert over the course of the past few months. Her husband, a farmer, had become very ill and could not work and Magala’s sight had deteriorated to such a state that she could no longer work either.
Though Magala and her family have now made it to Ethiopia, their journey remains unfinished. She and her sons have been living in the temporary intake centers in Dolo Ado where asylum seekers are registered and granted official status as refugees. The refugee camps, 30 miles away, have been so overburdened by the massive surge of arriving refugees that they can no longer accommodate any more people. The construction of a new camp is underway but in the meantime Magala and her family must continue to live in the transit center where nearly 11,000 other refugees are waiting to be registered and relocated.
Recognizing the dire health status of arriving refugees such as Magala and her boys and the delays they face in reaching the refugee camps, Save the Children has initiated a feeding program in the refugee transit and registration centers. The program provides two daily meals for all children aged 5 and younger. Magala explains how important this service is because the only other food offered to refugees at the center is difficult for her boys to eat. “This is the only option we have now. My children are not able to eat the other food that is provided here because they are not used to it and makes them sick. So I take them here to Save Children’s tent where they can eat and also get milk. I am so appreciative of the feeding program. They have now started eating again and I am so relieved.”
Magala still worries about her sons as she watches them struggle to adapt to such a new and harsh environment. “The children are afraid. We were not from an urban area. They are not used to being around so many people so they are having a very hard time mixing with the other children. But I am hopeful that they will become more settled when we get to the refugee camps.” Magala says that she is also feeling hope for her unborn child and the chance for new life in Ethiopia. “I’m expecting I can get medicine for my eyes here and that my children can have food, milk, medicine, and schooling. This is all I want.”
Hagadera Refugee Camp, Kenya
August 18, 2011
When we last left Carolyn, she had just met Abdi, a 13-year-old boy who travelled to Kenya alone.
On his first day in Hagadera, the day before we met him, Abdi was wandering in the market. “My husband found him crying and stopped to talk to him. He told him he was alone and his parents had died” said the young woman named Nimo who lives here. “He brought him home to me and now we are caring for him”.
I could not help but think how generous these people were. They lived in a small mud and stick house with a simple open kitchen made of sticks and yet they were willing to take in this little lost boy who needed everything. I asked Nimo to tell me a bit more about how she came to be in Hagedera camp.
“I came here several months ago from Somalia with my husband because there was so much war,” she said sadly. When I asked about her other children she told me that her first child, born in Somalia, had died from “disease” at 7-months. Probably something that could be prevented but given the horrific state of healthcare in Somalia, likely the child never saw a doctor or healthworker at all. I understood a little better why this young couple had wanted to take Abdi in.
As she spoke with us, Nimo kept glancing at Abdi to check that he was okay. She patted his knee to reassure him as we talked. Nimo told us she wanted to take care of him and we asked what he needed. “A mattress and supplies so he can go to school next month” she said. These are things Save the Children will provide, along with the support we give to families who are willing to foster children while we look for their parents or relatives. Since Abdi’s parents are dead, we will search for realtives here in Kenya.
In the meantime, Save the Children staff will come back to visit Nimo, her husband and Abdi regularly to make sure the arrangement is really working and to provide parent and child counseling, help in enrolling him in school, and access to healthcare.
As we said goodbye, I hoped that Abdi would finally find a home where he would be safe in Hagedera. We asked him if he had yet met any of the curious children peeking through the fence at us and he shook his head. “He will soon play with them” said Nimo with a smile. “When he is ready, he will make new friends here”.
Today we traveled to one of the camps to meet with Abdi, a shy 13-year-old boy with bright dark eyes and a tough story with a happy ending. I thought how young and small he looked, remembering my own towering son at 13. We sat outside on straw mats, huddled close to the mud wall for some shade from the afternoon sun and spoke wIth Abdi and the woman who lived here about his journey from Somalia and his new life in Kenya.
With his head hung, he told us that both his parents had died in Somalia, first his mother and then his father. An uncle had taken him in and then in a desparate bid to get Abdi to a better life away from famine and civil war, had paid for him to travel alone for several days on a truck, packed with other Somalis, along bone-jarring roads. He arrived at Hagadera camp on his own knowing not one single person.
We had met Abdi the day before at the registration center where Save the Children staff meet unaccompanied children and help get them food, supplies, clothing and most of all a foster family where they can stay while we try to trace parents or any relatives.
We got him what he needed and then staff started to work to find him a place to stay.
As we heard today from his kindly new care giver, it turns out Abdi thankfully had already started his new life with some luck…
Gabriel Nehrbass, Emergency Food Security and Livelihoods Fellow
Allow me to give you an idea of this past weekend. Imagine a continuous dust storm that distorts your vision and blows into your nose and mouth as you breathe. Envision a rusty red and light yellow desert with thousands of white UNHCR tents peppered evenly as far as the horizon. Picture parents with sadness in their eyes and children without a smile as you pass them. This is Kobe refugee camp. It is where the 24,000 recently arrived refugees have been resettled. There are two other camps already at capacity (more than 40,000 people in each) and one scheduled to open later this week to accommodate the increasing refugee population. The refugees are from different parts of Somalia, with different cultures and dialects.
Many children and adults are sick. Most are skinny and malnourished due to both their escape and the drought that is plaguing the region. They don’t even appear to have the hope or energy to talk. However, approach a man, woman or child and smile, offer your hand to shake theirs and say “hello, how are you” in some broken Somali and at once their facial expressions revive. Hope shines through their eyes and they become quite animated. You get a glimpse of who they are and what they have left behind.
Just weeks ago, the people in front of me were teachers, farmers, shop owners, pastoralists, and traders. Some of the children attended school, some didn’t, and some worked herding the family goats and sheep. They had family lives, dreams, hopes and aspirations like you and me. Now they are dazed.
In the refugee camps there is nowhere for the children to play or be safe, and there are strangers everywhere. Who actually lives in the camp and who comes from the surrounding areas is difficult to determine at this point. During the day, many children hide in their family tents. Some venture into the desert bush surrounding the camp. Who knows what can happen to them there.
The transit center is even more jarring. Children walk through trash and human feces. Some are defecating in front of everyone, on top of heaps of discarded plastic and other materials. Children are emaciated. Makeshift tents of cloth strewn across branches give little refuge to the newcomers. The families will be in the transit center until they receive refugee status documentation. This may take days or weeks. People are in shock from their displacement. There is no telling what happened to them over the past couple weeks. What did they see? What pain did they endure over their journeys? Who did they lose? What from their experience will weigh heavily on them for the rest of their lives? How long will they be in the camp? How long will the drought in East Africa continue?
Visit one of our nutrition tents and the knot in your heart intensifies. The children are so skinny you can see bones everywhere their clothes do not cover. Most just have a blank stare on their faces and do not notice you. Others lift their heads slightly and just gaze weakly. No smiles. I wonder how many children didn’t make it to the tent. I pray that the ones who are nourished back to health do not relapse in the coming months.
August 16, 2011
In Carolyn’s last blog we met Ibrahim, a man living in Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya. Ibrahim and his wife help care for many of the children in the camp, including six of their own.
Ibrahim leads us into a tiny mud and stick room, swept clean and bare. On a thin mattress covered with a simple cloth sits a small teenager holding a beautiful baby. Her name is Isnino and she is 16. Her baby Habibo is small but alert and looks healthy.
Carolyn sits with Isnino Adan and her two-month old baby girl, Habibo.
I sit on a stool with our one of our staff to interpret and ask her how she came to be here in Ibrahim’s house. At first, she looks away shyly as she tells me about how her family in Somalia was split apart, how she was married off by her father when she was 12 and how she left to look for her mother when the hunger became too bad. As she tells me the next part of her story, she finally looks at me and you can see the sadness in her eyes.
“I lived in the bush for several weeks with nothing but this cloth to cover me,” she says as she points to the cloth now covering her bed. “I knew I had to get somewhere where there was food but did not know how to get there. I knew my unborn baby also needed me to eat”.
She describes how she then managed to find a truck going to Kenya and how she used her last bit of money to pay for a ride. The truck was packed full of people and Isnino was wedged under many others for the two day journey.
On the second day of the journey, Isnino gave birth to her daughter inside the truck, surrounded by other refugees. She was too exhausted and scared to feel much happiness but hoped where she was going would be a better place for her daughter.
When she arrived at the reception center, Isnino and her newborn baby were lucky to be moved quickly through the long line where thousands of refugees were waiting to be registered. Because she had just given birth, she was taken quickly to the hospital and Save the Children, the agency in charge of child protection, was contacted.
Save the Children staff knew Ibrahim was willing to take in more children as a foster parent but would he and his wife accept this young girl and her fragile, newborn baby? Miraculously, he immediately agreed and Isnino and Habibo came to stay in the small mud room where I find her now, a few months after her horrible journey.
After telling me her courageous story, I ask Isnino if she thinks she may be able to find any of her family here. She tells me she doesn’t know where her mother might be but her father has been in contact.
“I hope he can come to visit me so I can find out how my brothers and sisters are doing. I am worried for them because there was no food when I left. I am safe here and my baby and I have what I need but they had nothing”.
Carolyn stands with Ibrahim Adan, 48, (holding child) and his wife, Aisha (center), who have been foster parents in the Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya for Save the Children since 2007.
August 15, 2011
As I meet with children and families here in the sprawling refugee camps of northeastern Kenya, I hear amazing and harrowing stories.
Yesterday we visited the original refugee camp called IFO – a part of the camps that has been here since 1992. We drove up a dusty red sandy road to a thick fence made from gnarled tree branches. Inside the fence was a family of 10, living simply in two tiny mud and stick structures with few possessions. But this was no ordinary family.
It was led by Ibrahim, a thoroughly generous and engaging man with much hardship in his life. He came from Somalia in 1991 during horrible fighting in his country.
He settled in the original camp with his wife and young son after a tough journey of hundreds of miles. Ibrahim later lost his wife and four of his children to disease. He remarried though and had 6 more children. He and his wife also care for many more children in his area of the camp.
As we talk, his children come to sit on his lap, next to him on an old can or peek out from behind his back. You can tell how much they love him. He tells me, “God gives back to those who do something for others, especially children.”
But what makes Ibrahim such a special man is that he and his wife, despite being very poor, have taken in yet another two children. A 13-year-old mother and her newborn baby girl who arrived two months ago from Somalia after their own grueling journey. Ibrahim and his wife agreed to be a foster family for the teen mom and baby as part of Save the Children’s child protection program.
Despite having so little, they share what they do have with others.
More to come tomorrow…