Saturday, January 26, 2008

Refugee Camp in the Cherangany Hills of Kenya

Me and Geoffrey

This is my first blog on this site. But, rather than write my own thoughts this time...I am going to insert a letter that came yesterday from the Director of Oasis of Hope in Kitale, partner in this project and my dear friend; Geoffrey Okumu.

Oasis of Hope is overseen by the District Children's Office in Kitale (similar to Child Protective Services in America). A committee was formed from members of several organizations that work with children in Kitale and Geoffrey was appointed as Secretary of the committee.

They made a trip yesterday out to the Cherangany Hills (a trip of a few hours from Kitale) to assess the situation at a refugee camp that has just formed to assist people who have been displaced as a result of the recent post-election violence in Kitale.

His words paint a heartbreaking picture....please pray for Kenya.....

Also, if you feel moved to help us to help these kids...write to me and I will let you know how you can provide a tax deductible donation.

Lydia (Mama Oasis)

Dear friends...

I am dying to let you know of our mission to the Cherangany refugee camp today (January 25).

We left Kitale this morning with a group of 12 members (3 from the District Children’s office, three pastors and 6 people from the Charitable Children institutions within Kitale).We also had 4 journalists and 2 members of the Kenya Red Cross Society with us. It was a rough and dusty trip up the Cherangany Hills and thank God we had the off-road Land cruisers.

We arrived at the camp at around noon and went straight to register our presence with the Chairman of the refugee camp and also with the District officer in charge of Cherangany Division. Because so many humanitarian bodies like the Red Cross and other groups had mostly donated foodstuffs; as the custodians of Children in the District, we decided to assist the Children with Social and Psychological needs. We had contributed some money and Oasis of Hope also being an active member gave Ksh.500 so that we could buy some recreational items. We bought balls, jumping ropes, toys and other playing items. We also bought over 2000 ready to drink juice boxes among other things. Some of the pastors who came with us brought some Bibles and other children's Bible stories.

On arriving at the camp...Oh my God! We couldn’t believe what we saw. I tell you, it is one thing watching all this things happen on TV and it is a whole different thing seeing it live. We had thought of coming and just getting kids out of the the camp to play with them as we administered to them but believe me, I don’t know what you can figure out seeing 21,000 people in tents spread out in just less than an acre of land for their camp.

Before we arrived there, I was thinking that we would see maybe a few thousand people spread over a huge area but NO..this was a mass of people: men, women, teenagers (boys/ girls) and so many young children ALL in these little tents and in such a small area. You can just imagine the situation with the young girls and women……………it is terrible.

We took a tour of the place and interviewed many people including children and their stories are nothing that you would even want to watch in a horror movie……….it was awful. Many were telling of how they saw their husbands, wives, children or parents being killed as they watched helplessly.

We talked to an 8 year old girl who was carrying a not more than 9 month old baby sister of hers and I was really shocked to learn from the little girl (who had so much trouble explaining to me as she was crying the whole time) that her mother and father were killed and she has been left to care for her baby sister. The little girl has been surviving courtesy of their neighbor who also has 9 kids of her own to take of. I didn't know what do with the little girl. I talked to the Children's officer and my team was there ready to help kids who had no parents by bringing them back with us to Kitale.

But you know what? And this is really stupid ……….the guys in charge said they could only release someone from the camp after a proper procedure was followed…………you know those cumbersome, stupid and time costing procedures here. How could we wait for procedures to be followed at such a difficult time for the kids?

It was also surprising that the camp officials wanted us to hand over the little bit of juice we had brought with us to their store so that they could distribute it later; but thank God the Children's officer was really hard on them and demanded that they allow us to distribute everything we had brought with us right then because we feared these things were not going to reach the kids.

This is one of the major problems there and I fear that little is reaching down to the child refugees. We decided that if any group wanted to present anything; we shall be going there as a team and make sure we have given out what we brought, otherwise….there are people taking advantage of this situation.

Another problem is that there is no water at the camp and you could see long queues. So we had a long of mothers and children waiting for water to be brought from Kitale.We arrived there at noon and people were waiting for the water in the line and they were still there when we left at 5 pm and they were still hopeful to get some water although none arrived the entire time we were there.

Sanitation is another huge problem; there are not nearly enough toilets, no proper cooking zones and all the tents are lined together……not even an inch apart from one tent to the other.

I fear for disease outbreak if things go as they are. There is no adequate medical attention. Many people are psychologically affected and they really need some counseling but it doesn't seem that anyone is caring about that. Everybody is looking at the general problems, like the need for sufficient food, but nobody is taking care of special cases in special groups like women and children. These two groups need more than food to survive and there should be somebody addressing that. I really sympathize with this group.

There is a school next to the refugee camp and the government gave a directive for all kids to attend the nearest schools to their camp ………but now, how do kids go to school without books, no place to sit (no desks), no uniform, not even their home clothes? Most people just left their homes with the clothes on their bodies and now that is all that they own in this world. Men were walking with their chests showing with rags hanging on their shoulders in the name of shirts.

At least we had some time to put smiles on the kid’s faces by playing with them and talking to them all that time we were there. I wish we could get a huge group of people who would volunteer to go there during the day and keep those kids busy. They need to break away from the fatigue and bad memories in their minds. I believe that is really important because even if you eat plates and plates of Ugali, Githeri or rice with a disturbed mind, I don’t think it would even look appetizing in the first place.

I can talk and talk about all this but I won’t even give you half the story of what I saw. We were supposed to come back to Kitale in the afternoon and visit another refugee camp that has formed at the showgrounds but we arrived too late to do anything more that day. There is also a third refugee camp that is developing really fast in Endebess about 15 miles north of Kitale town. There is a population of approximately 12,000 refugees there as well and we might be going there too.

We had expected to bring a few orphaned, sick and other kids who had lost track of their parents back with us at the end of the day; but we were unable to do that until the Area Chiefs, Camp Chairman and the School head teacher finish the work of identifying the group of children who are most in need. They say that they will bring the list to the Children's office in Kitale so that the Children's homes in Kitale (like Oasis of Hope) can distribute those children among themselves. Our team is also considering helping those kids with books and desks so that they can attend school. We made this step of faith though we are not sure how we are going to get the money to fund this project. We are having a meeting at the District Children’s office on Monday to discuss the trip and what the way forward should be.

Given the way things are unfolding, I can see that Oasis of Hope, as a member of the District Charitable Institution, will automatically be part of the homes that will have to shoulder extra responsibility of caring for these needy children. I would therefore kindly send my plea to all our friends to stand with us so that we can support this noble cause.

Our budgets are overstretched already with the increasing prices of commodities in the market as a result of the post-election violence in the country, and I fear if we are taking this task as expected by the District Children Committee, then we might come to a stand still as far as the running of the organization is concerned. So I am sending my request to all of you, please support us at this time of great need.

Otherwise things are still tense in the country even with the arrival of the former UN Secretary. He had closed door meetings yesterday with President Kibaki and Raila and even after they came out shaking hands for the first time, people are still killing each other. Today at least 30 people have been killed in Nakuru and Molo with new fights sprouting around the country. Many people are running away from their homes. I hope the talks will bear fruit.

Thank you all for your continued prayers and support.We need that so much. I love you all and be blessed.


1 comment:

Dave said...

This is one of the most remarkable examples of unselfishness and kindness I've witnessed. We should all take this as inspiration to do great things in our lives.
Dave Meyer - Los Angeles,CA USA