Abdi’s New Life – Part 1

CAROLYN_MILES_HEAD_SHOT_062001 Carolyn Miles, President & CEO-elect

Hagadera Refugee Camp, Kenya

August 17, 2011


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

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Inside a Refugee Camp

Gabriel

Gabriel Nehrbass, Emergency Food Security and Livelihoods Fellow

Kobe, Ethiopia

August 17, 2011


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. 

DSC_1709_91647 (1)Kobe Refugee Camp in Somali Region, Ethiopia  Photo Credit: Michael Klosson

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. 

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