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.