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Monday, 3 October 2011

The Famine In Kenya - Garissa County

The Refugee Camp

The Somali Refugee Camp

Many people back in Canada have asked us at Mission:180 how the famine is impacting us, what we have seen of it, are we involved in helping fight it etc.  In this post I want to take some time to answer those questions, while sharing with you my heartfelt observations and emotions from a recent trip I took to an area of Kenya that is being affected by the famine.
First here are some facts from the World Food Program:

  • Kenya is experiencing one of the worst droughts in recent years.
  • The number of severely malnourished children admitted to hospital has increased by 78 percent this year compared to last year. Malnutrition rates among children below the age of five years have risen dramatically with reports of up to 37 percent in some northern districts -- more than double the emergency threshold of 15 percent. 
  • Up to 3.5 million people are affected by the drought and their plight has been worsened by high food prices resulting from both local and global factors. 
  • Kenya currently has about 447,000 refugees 
  • Dadaab refugee camp in north-eastern Kenya continues to receive large influxes of refugees mainly from Somalia with about 30,000 new arrivals in June alone.
  • Kenya is a low-income food-deficit country with a GDP per capita of about US$759 (2009 World Bank) and a Gross National Income (GNI) of USD 1628 (2010 UNDP). The 2010 UNDP Human Development Report ranked Kenya among the “low human development” countries of the world, placing it 128th out of 169countries. 

Anxiously waiting his turn!

Bearing those facts in mind, I travelled North from Nairobi about 6 hours to Garissa county, to a little Somali village called Sombo.  On the drive from Nairobi, the further north we got, the drier and dustier it became.  Soon we started to see dead animals, some were wild and some were livestock, sun bleached bones with tatters of skin and fur attached.  These animals, like their owners, are dependant on water to drink, and dependant on the food water helps to grow.  You know times are tough when the camels are dropping dead! The live animals all look to be in various stages of severe illness and starvation. 

Desperately digging in a dried river bed for water.
As we drove we crossed a number of bridges.  These were fairly long bridges, and the rivers they span are wide.  Now, they just help us cross completely dry riverbeds.  They look like highways of sand! Sometimes we see people digging with whatever tools they can find, going as deep as they can in the middle of what used to be the rivers, desperately searching for water.  If and when they find some precious water, there is always a long line-up of people waiting with their "jerry cans", the ubiquitous yellow containers that used to contain vegetable oil for cooking.  If water is found, it is brackish, muddy, and unsafe unless boiled.

We reach a point close to the small town of Garissa, and we branch right.  Now we are off roading on an old camel trail.  Time to put the Toyota Hilux Surf we drive into 4 wheel drive! We go about 35 km's over some rough terrain, driving through a number of dried out river beds.  Its HOT now!  We left Nairobi this morning and it was 18 degrees celsius.  Now, this afternoon, near Sombo village, it's 38 degrees celsius! Its a very dry and dusty heat, no humidity to speak of.  
This was once a life giving river.

A traditional celebration dance! 

From Sombo we travel another 10 KM to a Somali refugee camp.  Things are beyond desperate here.  There is no food, and there is no water.  The shrinking Tana River is close by, but it comes with some real challenges.  Recently a child was snatched by a crocodile, never to be seen again.  The river is dangerous, and the water is not clean.  We have arrived with food.  There is a traditional tea ceremony with the village elders, then a time of dancing and "singing".  They are very happy to see us!! The ladies are singing a song, when translated it says, "we were never educated, we want our children to learn, let the wazungu (white people) come".
At this point I am really glad I am sweating so much, because it masks the tears streaming down my cheeks.  These people are living in absolute squalor, with no resources to speak of. They are traditionally nomadic, and they have travelled a long long way hoping for something better.  They have found more hunger, more thirst! Like us, they want to provide for their children, they want to live freely, worship freely, they want to make a life for themselves.  They live in a state of constant concern about their next meal, will they be able to find a place to settle down, will they finally feel safe and "at home".  They have nothing, no place to call home, no land to plant crops or to build a permanent dwelling, to feel like they have a place. How long can people live like this? 
Distributing the relief packages to each family.
A beautiful family!
 Today each family receives enough food for 4 weeks.  It is amazing to be a part of helping keep people alive.  It is humbling to see their gratitude.  Its heartbreaking to not be able to do more.  

Its  really overwhelming to see it, hear the sounds, to hold the emaciated little ones.  I feel so helpless there, so useless.  I remember the purpose of Mission:180, to impact one life at a time.  It seems hollow this day.  But every life does matter.  Every cup of water given matters.  Every morsel of food makes a difference.   Every day we can keep someone going means hope.
Hope shines through!
A very special little girl!

We at Mission:180 are involved in a feeding program in a slum in Nairobi, we regularly visit an "Internally Displaced Peoples Camp" near Nairobi, bringing them the word of God and food, and we routinely participate in helping with medical and educational needs here in Nairobi.  Now, we have also been to the places being hit hardest by this famine, the worst on record in 60 years!  Are we seeing the impact of the famine, YES! We see it in Nairobi, with rising food and fuel costs, and with people asking us to help their loved ones in famine stricken areas. We see it in the slums of Nairobi, and we have seen it up close and personal in places like Sombo Village.
Are we doing something to help fight it? With YOUR help, yes!    We are doing the best we can with what resources we are given to work with.  

We maintain our conviction that every life matters, and we must make an impact, one life at a time.