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Notes from the Field
Posted by: Daniel Fava at 3:50PM EST on September 27, 2011
CARE mourns the loss of Wangari Maathai, Kenyan Nobel Laureate and founder of the Green Belt Movement, which CARE actively supported beginning in 1994.
Maathai died early Monday morning after a long battle with cancer. She was 71.
Wangari Maathai contributed to the Women Empowered book that CARE produced in partnership with photographer Phil Borges. The book highlights the plight and promise of poor women around the world.
Protecting the Environment
Women have always played the role of primary caregivers: of their children, their elderly parents, the family garden, and of whatever corner of the planet they live in. From the rice paddies in Thailand, to the manioc fields of the highlands of Papua New Guinea, to the rainforest gardens of the Amazonian Kayapo, it is women who tend their growth. Quietly and with determination, they plant the seeds, remove the weeds, and patiently wait for the fruit of their labor to ripen.
When the forests are cut and the lakes and rivers poisoned, when the land dries up and the rains don’t come, it is also women who bear the greater burden of providing nourishment for their families. And they must watch as their brothers, husbands, and sons fight over the dwindling resources.
In this critical moment in the history of our planet, I call on all women, young and old, of all social spheres, of all races, to take their place as soldiers and leaders in a battle far more important than any other humanity has ever fought. It is important to understand what is happening to our environment and to take action. Otherwise, the next generation of our children may grow up in a planet devoid of beauty and diversity, in a minefield of human greed. By empowering women and girls, the primary caregivers, we can fulfill our role as leaders in a global environmental crusade. Let us all step up to protect the earth, for in its survival depends our own.
Posted by: Daniel Fava at 2:54PM EST on September 26, 2011
Rick Perera, Horn of Africa Communications Coordinator
It's a typical day at the CARE-managed Illeys Primary School at Dagahaley refugee camp in Dadaab, Kenya. Fifty parents are lined up outside the gates, desperate to enroll their children. They're drawn not just by the prospect of an education, but by the daily meal CARE provides, in partnership with the World Food Program. The student body is swelling astronomically with the children of new refugees, mostly fleeing drought and hunger in Somalia.
This modest compound of cement-block classrooms, designed for 1,500 students, packs in more than 4,000 children in two daily shifts. Spillover classes are housed in tents, bright voices echoing in song and recitation through the sandy courtyard.
"Every child who wants to come to school here is welcome, though of course it's a strain," says principal Ahmed Hassan in his cluttered office, where a whiteboard overflows with statistics about his ever-growing student population.
Illeys school is close to the influx area for refugees, and most of the new youngsters filling the school have recently arrived from Somalia with their families. In one of the tents, Farah Ali Abdi gives a basic English lesson to a remedial class. The group encompasses children ranging from 4 to 15 years old, all of them struggling to catch up enough to enroll in regular primary grades. "The cup is on the table!" they shout gleefully – more or less in unison.
Most teachers here, like Farah, are refugees themselves, hired and trained by CARE. They work with patience and skill, but with as many as 130 children in one classroom it is next to impossible to give all of them the attention they deserve. The five primary schools managed by CARE in Dagahaley camp are massively overburdened, with over 15,000 students. To cope with the influx, and help those who lag behind catch up to their peers, CARE operates special accelerated learning centers during school vacation. Yet, far too many refugee children receive no education: more than 60 percent of kids in the Dadaab camps do not attend school at all.Girls face special roadblocks in the quest to learn. Only 39 percent of students at the camp schools are girls. By tradition, girls are expected to take on the bulk of chores at home. "If a family has two girls and two boys, they will send the boys and one girl to school and keep the other girl home to work," says Principal Hassan. "Even the girls who attend will have little time to do homework – unlike their brothers." Puberty brings an additional challenge. Girls may miss class for a week every month during their period, out of fear of embarrassment – and many drop out entirely. A girl is traditionally considered marriage-ready at 14, and dropout rates soar at that age.
CARE's work to improve educational opportunity starts at the grassroots. Staffers hold community orientations and go door to door in the camp's residential blocks, advising families about the benefits of learning. Teachers live among the refugees, constantly reinforcing those messages. CARE helps adolescent girls stay in school, distributing sanitary napkins and training communities in how to dispose of them safely.
Over time, teachers say, families see the benefits their neighbors reap when daughters become educated, get jobs and help support their parents. Bit by bit, the old attitudes are changing.
Sahara Hussein Abanoor, age 17, has an exceptionally eager face, but her ambition is not unusual among the students here. She loves learning and wants to become a lawyer and help refugees like her family. "My parents see what I'm achieving and they believe that my future life will be better," she says in confident English, beaming beneath a pumpkin-colored hijab that billows in the stiff breeze. "My mother did not go to school because there was no possibility of that in Somalia. Nowadays the world has changed very much. Even my brothers say it's good that girls go to school."
Indeed, some of the most effective advocates for girls' education in Dadaab are men. One of them is Shukri Ali Khalif, a tall, skinny 29-year-old who joined CARE's Gender and Development team in 2007. Previously, he says, he had no idea of the difficulties girls face or why they are more likely to drop out. Today he is an enthusiastic spokesman for their equal access to school. "I facilitate mentoring groups for girls, and encourage them to speak out in class and ask questions, instead of sitting on the back bench and letting boys take the lead."
And how do the boys feel about all this? Shukri – who was himself a refugee boy not so long ago – grins. "They feel great!"
Posted by: Daniel Fava at 11:57AM EST on September 22, 2011
Niki Clark, Dadaab Emergency Media Officer
Fardosa Muse is a much fiercer woman than her small stature implies. As a CARE sexual and gender-based violence officer in the world's largest refugee camp, she has to be. She spends her day listening to other people's nightmares.
Born in Dadaab, Fardosa, 26, grew up in a polygamous family; her father married multiple wives, and had 40 children. A fluent English speaker, Fardosa studied social science in college. Upon returning to her hometown, she came to work for CARE, where she has spent the past two and a half years in the Dadaab refugee camps.
She is passionate about her work and the people she serves. "Can you imagine being gang-raped in the middle of nowhere?" she says, a steady gaze in her eyes. "This is what women and children are experiencing on their journey from Somalia. Violence against women is a profound health problem for women across the globe."
Today she visits Sultana,* a 53-year-old grandmother, who Fardoza met when she first arrived at the camps. She wants to see how Sultana is settling in.
Sultana gestures to her tent for Fardosa to come in. With Fardosa's help, Sultana was fast-tracked through registration so as to get a more permanent shelter than the initial reception process provides. There is a thin mattress on the floor, also given to her by CARE as part of her intake process. Other than a piece of tattered fabric covering her bed, and a thin cover of red dust, the rest of the tent is bare.
Sultana was living in Dadaab when she heard that the husband of her mentally-challenged daughter had been violently killed in Mogadishu. Knowing the struggle her daughter would have raising the children alone, she traveled to Somalia. Once there, she turned back, determined to take the six children to a safer, more stable environment. Midway through her journey, Sultana was raped by seven armed men. When sharing her story with Fardosa, Sultana's eyes squint in pain as her hands gesture how she was gagged and bound. She says that she continued her journey back to Dadaab once the men were done. She had to keep going.
Rape affects survivors in many ways. Because of the severe social stigma here associated with rape, many cases go unreported. Women who are violated are often shunned by their neighbors and families, divorced by their husbands. For unwed women and girls, rape can mean a solitary life with no chance for marriage. There is the risk of HIV infection, too. In Somali communities, Fardosa says, there is no sense of confidentiality. With thin tent walls separating neighbors, it seems the case is the same in Dadaab. So Sultana tells her story in soft whispers. Having others know what happened to her "would be a whole set of other problems."
"It's a challenge just operating in this environment," Fardosa says. "A lot of the shame survivors feel comes from the community. Here, women are ‘the lesser sex.' Only women that are circumcised are considered marriage worthy. Marital rape is a big concern. The work that CARE is doing in Dadaab focuses on providing psychological and social support and rights education, as well as outreach to men and boys so we can start changing what is considered the social norm."
CARE is supporting newly-arrived survivors through counseling and referrals to emergency medical facilities at the reception centers and by providing psychological counseling services in the camps. Weekly sessions are conducted at settlement sites, including education on services available within the camps. To date, CARE reached approximately 8,200 new arrivals with information on violence prevention and where and how to get help. CARE also provides information through "road shows" put on by Community Participatory Education Theatre groups. Unfortunately, reported cases of gender-based violence in the camps have significantly increased since the onset of the crisis, although most violations still remain unreported.
Fardosa's visit with Sultana comes to an end. "I still have horrific nightmares," Sultana tells Fardosa. "But because of counseling provided by CARE, I am healing."
"Rape is not only a violation of the law," Fardosa says as she walks back towards the car. "It's also a violation of humanity."
She is on to her next client. There are many more waiting.
*Identifying characteristics have been changed to ensure confidentiality.
Posted by: Daniel Fava at 11:06AM EST on September 22, 2011
September 21, 2011
Mohamed Maalim Gedi sits cross-legged on a floor of dusty red dirt, aimlessly fiddling with his bare, well-traveled toes. His gaze is towards the ground, but his thoughts are obviously elsewhere. He occasionally reaches out to swipe an insistent fly from the face of one of his young children, five boys. The wooden benches, set in a half circle around him, are filled with other weary travelers. They just arrived in Dadaab, a place of both hope and uncertainty. A large bus, smoke still sputtering from its tail pipe, is parked a few yards away. It is the one that transported him from the border, another group of Somali refugees escaping drought and insecurity. There have been more than 132,000 refugees who have come just since January.
Like so many of his fellow refugees, Mohamed is a pastoralist. His entire livelihood depended on his cattle. When the last one died, he decided it was finally time to escape. "I have lived like this for 20 years," Mohamed says, referring to the frequent drought and worsening security in his home country. "Enough is enough."
So, with his wife and mother, he traveled 500 kilometers via foot and donkey cart from his village of Bu'aale, Somalia to the border town of Dif, Kenya. From there, he arranged for a bus to transport his family for the rest of the journey to Dadaab. Because of limited space, he had to leave behind two of his children, his youngest, 2, and his eldest, 14, with cousins. "I hope the bus that just brought us is going back to get them," Mohamed says. "But I can't be sure."
The reception center is the first safe haven after a long and arduous journey for refugees. In the background, one can hear the shrill, high cry of children. But their cries come not from the hunger but vaccinations against polio, measles, diphtheria and pneumonia. Such vaccinations are unheard of luxuries back in Somalia, and are part of the reason Mohamed made the trip here. He hopes his sick children will get the medical attention they need.
Here at the reception center, Mohamed also has access to clean water and a supply of high-energy biscuits. Because of increased efficiencies in registration, Mohamed and his family will now be registered within a three-day time period, down significantly from previous waiting times when the crisis first hit. After he registers, CARE will provide him with a plastic tarpaulin, kitchen set, soap, blankets, plastic mats and jerry cans and an initial food ration to last until the next regular food distribution cycle. As registered refugees, Mohamed's family will be entitled to a tent from UNHCR an a food ration card so they can join the bi-monthly food distribution cycle run by CARE.
On the fence surrounding the area where CARE distributes initial food rations —servings of wheat flour, Corn Soy Blend (CSB), vegetable oil, corn meal, beans, salt and sugar — hangs a sign in English and Somali. It states: "Services from Agencies are Free; Help Stop Sexual Exploitation and Abuse." CARE and other agencies that work here are continuously working to ensure refugees are aware of services and where to access them. A CARE counselor stands next to the area where new arrivals gather their high energy biscuits. "How was your journey?" she asks a fatigued family of five. She's looking to identify vulnerable populations, such as survivors of gender-based violence, widows, lactating mothers and the ill. She's help "fast-track" them so they can get to immediate help, including medical services and counseling.
As he waits to be called, Mohamed sits with uncertainty weighing on his mind. He has no relatives or friends in the camps, and is unsure of what to expect. "There is a fear of the unknown," he says. "Will I have a place to sleep tonight? Will my children get food and medicine?"
In spite of these reservations, Mohamed says he remains optimistic. "I am hopeful. Hopeful that I will get help for the first time. That, finally, we will have some relief."
He pauses for a few minutes, lost in his thoughts. "A larger question lingers, though," he finally admits. His question is one that countless others have asked, continue to wonder, even after the physical part of their journey is complete. "What's next?"
Posted by: Daniel Fava at 10:39AM EST on September 22, 2011
Everyone knows that water is necessary to sustain human life. People have survived for weeks, even months, without food, yet even a day without water causes the human body to suffer. Even with its critical importance, water isn't typically something that gets most people excited. That is, unless you're talking to any of the CARE staff working on water and sanitation (WASH) in Kenya at the Dadaab refugee camps. Just hold a 10 minute conversation and you'll understand how easy finding a passion for the subject can be.
As the main implementing partner for water production and distribution in Dadaab's three camps and two outlying areas, CARE pumps and distributes approximately 7.5 million liters of water a day, enough to provide all residents with 15 liters of water a day. With almost 500,000 refugees in and around the camps, providing water for the entire population remains a daunting task and extending services to keep up with demand is a constant challenge.
"Dadaab is the third largest city in Kenya," says Timothy Mwangi who helps with CARE's water management. "The coordination and logistics involved in making sure that many people have enough to drink would be difficult in a normal setting. But within the context of a refugee camp, it is even more of a challenge."
CARE is meeting that challenge through a combination of boreholes and water tanks. Currently, CARE maintains 20 boreholes and over 172 kilometers of pipes throughout the camps. These boreholes tap into the reserve of groundwater that sits below Dadaab's surface. In addition, CARE provides potable water through trucking services and water tanks. Each influx area has between one and three tanks, each serving 2,500 people. CARE also is increasing the number of water points and tap stands in the influx areas and extending water pipes from the existing camp systems.
Resources are tight. Amina Akdi Hassa is the chair of the Dagahaley camp. She serves as a refugee representative and is consulted when decisions regarding Dagahaley services are made. She has lived in Dadaab for nearly 20 years. "Share our problems," she tells visitors.
One of those problems is storage. While CARE distributes jerry cans to all new arrivals, there often are not enough to transport and store all the water needed. The task of collecting water is time consuming, and often keeps those charged with less time to collect firewood and cook, for example. Community mobilizers employed by CARE spend their days talking with residents like Amina to assess the problems and offer solutions.
In addition to our water production and distribution work, CARE manages all hygiene and sanitation promotion programs in the three main camps — Hagadera, Ifo and Dagahaley — including each camp's influx areas, markets, schools and water points. Refugee "incentive" workers raise awareness around various hygiene issues, including reducing the spread of waterborne diseases through handwashing. These workers go door to door, demonstrating safe hygiene practices and distributing soap.
To the outside world, it may not seem like the most glamorous of jobs, but the response of the refugees is quite different. When CARE's Public Health Promotion Officer Raphael Muli visits the influx area of Dagahaley, he is immediately surrounded by residents of all ages. Young children crowd, raising their hands, anxious to volunteer for the handwashing demonstration. Raphael flips through a "how-to" picture book walking the children through each step. Then, he hands out bars of soaps, reminding refugees that handwashing is a simple way to reduce the risk of disease. In fact, some studies show that this simple act can decrease diarrheal disease by up to 47 percent in a community. All day long Raphael will repeat this drill, one person in a CARE team of public health officers and community mobilizers. He is greeted enthusiastically everywhere he goes.
Raphael and his colleagues have reached nearly 31,500 refugees living in the influx areas with their public health promotion messaging this year alone. Their goal is to reach 60,000 by the end of the year. With each demonstration and each conversation he holds, his message about the important of water and good hygience becomes clearer to everyone.
Posted by: Daniel Fava at 10:31AM EST on September 21, 2011
Deputy Safety and Security Manager,
"If you want something important done, don't do it on Christmas Day – everyone will be away," I remember my buddy joking, while we were bouncing around inside a Series 3 Land Rover on a security training exercise in New Zealand some time ago. Flash forward to Pakistan in August 2011: I am driving with our CARE team leader, Karuna, in a Toyota 4x4 on a field assessment in central Sindh. It is Eid, a major holiday, the end of the Ramadan. All our staff, including the drivers, have gone to their home villages to be with their families, and the country is on standstill observing national celebrations after a month of fasting for Ramadan. The heavy monsoon rainfall and rising waters have us a little on edge. We have no idea that our response will be one of the first by an NGO - right at the heart of another emergency.
As the rain continued non-stop for almost 2 full days, Karuna would suggest areas he was interested in visiting, and we would dart around the region, hoping for access and a return route on roads that were at risk of closing. We monitored the river and swelling canals, inspecting for damage and trouble spots. I was liaising frantically back with our country office via Blackberry, snapping shots between wiper blade strokes and potholes, and taking notes in my little note-book. From time to time we would stop to stretch our legs and reflect on the disaster unfolding before our eyes.
The roads around Dadu were eerily quiet, with no sign of the infamous chaotic traffic, only the drumming of persistent rain pelting the roads. By parking next to the door of our staff house in town, we could climb into the car to avoid wading through over a foot of water mixed with garbage and stinking sewage. In rural areas, we saw mud houses melting away like chocolate ice-cream.
When the rain stopped, we knew that a new deluge of work was coming our way. CARE staff and our local partners were headed back to the field office. They would need an immediate and accurate account of the situation. Media paints one story, helicopter rides another – but "eyes on the ground" can't be beat. We were there on the ground. Within days, after only a small break in the weather, Southern Sindh was hit much harder. Roadsides and school grounds became crowded with families who had lost their homes. Our nearby warehouse was packed with emergency stocks ready for distribution: tarpaulins for temporary shelter, mats, shawls, cooking utensils, hygiene sets with antibacterial soap, tanks for safe water storage. Our holiday would have to wait.
Sindh province, southern Pakistan. Just one year after an unprecedented flood affected 20 million people, new flooding is threatening lives and livelihoods in Pakistan. Sindh, a province in the south of the country, is the worst affected. Nearly one million houses have been damaged, thousands of livestock have been lost and more than five million people are struggling to rescue their livelihoods.
Posted by: Moses Makalanga at 8:39AM EST on September 20, 2011
i have a proposal for martenal health promotion how can i share with you ?
Posted by: Daniel Fava at 1:58PM EST on September 19, 2011
By Yohannes Jarso, Emergency Program Manager, CARE Ethiopia, Borana Field Office
The Borana region of Ethiopia is known for its deep traditional wells that are the main water source for livestock and household consumption in the dry season and in times of drought. These wells are known as the "singing wells" -- because when people fetch water they form a long line up a ladder and sing as the water container is passed from one person to another, until it reaches the last person waiting above ground. The traditional wells have kept the people and livestock safe for generations – until this current drought, when they stopped giving water. "There was never a drought like this one that made the traditional singing wells of Borana run dry. Never in history," said an elderly man from the community, with an expression of disbelief.
Due to the greater number of deaths of livestock recently, and migration of the remaining animals, it was normal to expect that there would at least be less pressure on the wells now, as they would serve only for human consumption. But their natural capacity to produce water has dropped precipitously, making the situation increasingly dire.
Previously both animals and humans took water from the same source – but in the recent past CARE, through our Resilience Enhancement Against Drought in Ethiopia (READ) project, rehabilitated these 12- to 15-meter-deep traditional wells for better and more hygienic accessibility and quality of water during dry seasons and droughts. But even these improvements cannot make the wells give water when nature does not cooperate.
Currently, rationing is in place in five woredas (districts) at water points served by different NGOs. CARE has continued rehabilitating water points and providing water purification solution.
After the great number of deaths of livestock, the lifeblood of Borana pastoralists, it has become normal to hear people saying, "We have stopped thinking about our animals now. We are worried only about lives." Cereals are in short supply in markets, and prices are out of reach for many. Malnutrition for nursing mothers and children under 5 is another serious issue that is getting worse day by day.
More and more cattle can be seen for sale at the market, but their selling price is lower than ever and few buyers can afford them. The rate of deaths has been slowing lately, but as rains fail and drought conditions persist, the situation is again deteriorating – precious herds are dying.
CARE is actively involved in preventing the loss of livestock, by providing feed and helping herders manage their herd size, culling animals while they still have some value for meat, rather than letting them starve. We are also providing supplementary feeding for malnourished children in three woredas and scaling up to reach two more, as the number of new cases soars.
The songs may not come back to the wells anytime soon, but CARE is determined to bring a note of optimism to the herders of Borana in these difficult times.
Posted by: Daniel Fava at 11:34AM EST on September 19, 2011
by Niki Clark
Adulkadir Adbullahi Muya—known by his colleagues simply as Muya—is in a hurry. He hardly has time for a handshake greeting before he is off, his long stride forcing the occasional sprint in attempts to keep up.
Muya is, as he describes it, is "on the job. Every day, every day, I'm on the job." As a refugee "incentive" worker—one of the nearly 2,200 CARE employs here at the Dadaab refugee camp—Muya has been working as a paracounselor for a little over a month. His job is to visit refugee clients in his community and direct them to services, offer a listening ear. With 1,400 refugees arriving every day, there are plenty of people that need to be heard. He is on his way to the Dagahaley influx drop-in center. It serves as a satellite office where new arrivals who have experienced trauma, loss, or sexual or gender-based violence can visit with CARE counselors.
Muya is a paracounselor with CARE in the Dagahaley camp of Dadaab Refugee camp. He identifies people in his community who have experience trauma, loss or violence and handles initial consultations.
Paracounselors like Muya are specially trained, identifying the violated and vulnerable within the community and handling initial consultations. He walks this route several times a day, going back and forth between the CARE Counseling office and the drop-in center.
Right now he is headed to meet a new client, someone a CARE community mobilizer told him about. A bus was hijacked on the journey from Somalia to Dadaab. Women were raped; people were burned. The details are fuzzy but he knows it's serious. His pace quickens, his fingers furiously texting, always working, even as he walks. He briefly turns, "Dagahaley is growing and growing," outstretched arms for emphasis. Indeed, it is. The population of Dadaab has more than doubled in just three years.
We rush past Unity, a primary school CARE runs in Dagahaley, the sing-song chorus of children echoing from the classrooms. Past a lone donkey, munching his way through a burned refuse pile, searching for anything edible. Through shouts of "How are you?," a charming acknowledgement by refugee children of Muya's obviously English-speaking companion. By mud bricks in a yard, past a naked toddler beating an empty jerry liter, applauding himself for the rat-a-tat noise his impromptu drum makes.
A resident of Dadaab since 1991, Muya went back to Somalia in 1997 and after nearly a decade, returned once again, this time bringing his mother. He works with an unceasing determination, often working through lunch breaks in order to squeeze in just one more visit. The pride he holds in serving his neighbors in this way is evident; it comes through in his stance, the way he speaks of his "clients." The sweat beads that form on his brow in this ungodly heat remind me of a musician, just finished with a high-energy performance. It's an accurate impression. In many ways, Muya is a rock star.
On the way to the drop-in center, Muya walks past the home of one of his current clients. A quick change of plans and Muya walks in the yard, greetings all around. An elderly refugee woman sits on a mat outside her mud hut. I smile softly in her direction but notice her blank eyes, she is blind. A lump grows in her neck glands; multiple hospital visits have answered none of her questions. Muya asks how she's doing, is she in pain, does she need him to make any calls?
"Sometimes I just stop by to say hello," Muya says about his visits. One man he stops to see has a cancerous tumor that is enveloping the back of his head, creating constant pain. His only option is chemotherapy, which he can't afford. But Muya stops by every day, every two days. "I don't want him to lose hope. Maybe one of these days, if I keep referring him to different doctors, reaching out to different people, then maybe someone can intervene and help him. Until then, I'll keep listening, searching for help. I want him to know he hasn't been forgotten."
As he speaks, another woman walks up, complaining of constant headaches and vision problems. Can he help her? She heard he could. "New clients," Muya says with a smile. "Every day, you get a new client." He jots down her information and refers her to the medical center before he is off again. Muya has his fill of new clients today. He is stopped no less than six times on his way to the drop-in center.
One is a woman who has lived with her condition for six years, four of them in Dadaab. She, too, spends her days sitting outside on a woven mat, not walking except to the latrine, which is fortunately just a couple of feet away. Her arms and legs are thin like twigs, breakable, yet her abdomen is swollen like the belly of a mother on the brink of birth. But this woman isn't pregnant, her eldest is eight. And no one can seem to tell her what's wrong. She asks Muya to photograph her; that maybe he can show the picture to another doctor, one she hasn't seen before, and this one could help. Muya promises to follow up and then heads out.
There are more people to see.
Because the sun is fading, and the drop-in center is still far, Muya calls the daughter of the woman he originally set out to see and asks if he can meet her at the block instead. It is in fact, right next to Muya's block in Dagahaley, so he knows exactly where to go.
Muya with the some of the refugees (including a client, bottom left) with whom he interacts with regularly, not only as a paracounselor for CARE, but as their neighbor and fellow refugee.
The woman's family surrounds her as he makes his way to her house. She lifts her dress, revealing a painful and hideous wound, where the men covered her with paraffin and firewood and set her on fire. It was her punishment for resisting rape. After her bus was hijacked, women were brought into a nearby forest and raped. When she fought back, she was burned. The hijackers stole the bus, and so the woman had to be carried by the other refugees to Dadaab. Luckily—if you could call anything in Dadaab that—her daughter was here and had a mud house to offer. She visited the hospital with her husband, who could just watch as she was attacked, but they couldn't afford the recommended procedure so they returned back to her daughter's home with just pain pills and topical cream. That was two weeks ago. Yesterday, CARE had met with the men on the bus, today the women survivors. They needed to talk through the horror they had witness.
"I still feel the pain," she said, "Like my skin is on fire." When Muya asks her about her other pain, the pain that's will remain after her leg heal, she tells him, "I've accepted what has happened to me. What is disturbing me is my wound, my physical pain. If I can get treatment, and I can't see the scar, I will be able to forget about it."
In a world where violence, loss and death are an everyday norm, this may be true. But Muya will not forget. He gets her details; promising CARE counselors will follow up and ensure that the woman receives both the physical and psychological care she desperately needs. She is not alone, she will not be forgotten.
Muya and the woman part ways, nightfall is approaching quickly and he wants to get in one more visit. He shouts his goodbyes from over his shoulder; like always, he is in a hurry.
Posted by: Daniel Fava at 3:58PM EST on September 14, 2011
by Niki Clark, CARE Emergency Media Officer in Kenya
One of my "duties" as an emergency media officer here in the refugee camps in Dadaab, Kenya, is to share my perspective of CARE's work and beneficiaries through social networks such as Facebook and Twitter. And being the dutiful employee I am, I often Twitter-follow recent Dadaab visitors so that I can in turn share their perspectives of the camps.
One such recent visitor was Somalian-born, Canadian-raised singer K'naan. Although K'naan found worldwide fame only recently through his 2010 FIFA World Cup theme-song Wavin' Flag, he has been amassing fans for more than 10 years, when a spoken word performance before the United Nations High Commission on Refugees caught the ear of famed Senegalese singer Youssou N'Dour (another recent Dadaab visitor). After K'naan visited Dadaab with a World Food Programme-CARE joint delegation, which included friends of CARE Cindy McCain and retired NBA superstar Dikembe Mutombo, @Knaan became my latest Twitter-follow.
For the past week or so, I have been struggling with the two very different Dadaabs I have experienced. Then, yesterday, I read a tweet that perfectly captured what I have been trying to express:
"Somalia is overflowing with beauty." @knaan reflects on his Somalia, not necessarily the one you see on the nightly news.
In midst of the strife and turmoil, hidden between the heartache and uncertainty, and tucked away behind the dire poverty and desperation of a homeless people, the people of Somalia – the refugees of Dadaabb – are an overflowing vessel of beauty. Because the unexpected truth is: there is beauty everywhere, even in the world's largest refugee camp, where I see:
When I was an art student in college, I did a photography project on raw beauty – the beauty of accomplishment, the beauty of the everyday, of the unintentional. I have seen incredible poverty in Dadaab, things that people should never see, things that should never exist. Back in my Washington, D.C., office, I have CARE's vision tacked to my cubicle walls:
We seek a world of hope, tolerance and social justice, where poverty has been overcome and people live in dignity and security. CARE International will be a global force and a partner of choice within a worldwide movement dedicated to ending poverty. We will be known everywhere for our unshakable commitment to the dignity of people.
It's a constant reminder for me of the essence of CARE's purpose: Defending Dignity. Fighting Poverty. Because dignity is beautiful. People who are able to control their own destinies and raise themselves above the situations into which they are born: this is true beauty. And it's all over Dadaab.
As a native of Somalia, K'naan is able to see something that most people in the world will never see: the beauty of Somalia and its people. Dadaab may never make Travel & Leisure's "Top 10 Most Beautiful Places' but the people of Somalia – who are the refugees of Dadaab – are some of the most beautiful people in the world.
Posted by: Daniel Fava at 2:40PM EST on September 14, 2011
by Rick Perera, CARE Communications Coordinator, Horn of Africa
Janet Ndoti Ndila is a tough lady with a tender heart. She's the lead counselor at CARE's drop-in support center at the Dagahaley refugee camp in Dadaab, Kenya. Here she offers a trained ear, and a map through the maze of camp bureaucracy, to people who have suffered some of the most horrific things imaginable in their flight from hunger and despair.
Janet and her colleagues are the first resort for thousands of weary, dejected Somalis pouring out of their famine-stricken homeland into this complex of camps, the largest of its kind in the world, now sheltering nearly 430,000 people. She doesn't let the experience dampen her upbeat, take-charge personality. But there are days when it can get overwhelming.
"I've worked in worse places – places where there's immediate, ongoing bloodshed. That's not the case here, but the things people have lived through…" Her voice trails off.
Providing Physical and Emotional Rest
Janet leads the way to CARE's distribution center for new arrivals, a large tent where refugees collect initial rations to tide them over until they are registered as camp residents. An efficient operation whisks them through as they collect plastic mats, jerry cans, cornmeal, beans, salt, oil and other essentials. Nearby, a set of taps offers plenty of safe water for washing and drinking.
More than physical hunger and thirst are looked after. Janet and her staff usher in group after group of tired, bewildered families and sit them down on rough-hewn benches in the shade of a canvas tent. Janet – a native of Kangalu in eastern Kenya – speaks to them reassuringly through a Somali interpreter. Here they get their first orientation to Dadaab: how to negotiate the labyrinth of services available, register for food distributions and shelter, and gain access to medical care for the weak, the malnourished, the sick and those injured during the harsh journey.
There are wounds to the spirit, too, and these are Janet's most important responsibility. Most of the refugees have seen and experienced terrible things before arriving here. Not just the suffering of poverty, hunger and warfare back in Somalia, but the trauma of being uprooted from home and family, and the loss of loved ones: the elderly, frail and children who did not survive the trip. Many fell prey to bandits along the way, robbed of everything when they were at their most vulnerable. And in every group of new arrivals there are women bearing terrible secrets, of brutal violence and rape suffered in the lawless wilds they were forced to cross in search of safety.
Refugees Counseling Refugees
CARE's paracounselors are a team of 18, as energetic and outspoken as their boss. They are all refugees themselves, recruited in the camps by CARE and specially trained to handle initial consultations. They are familiar, compassionate faces, fellow Somalis who understand what their compatriots have been through. The paracounselors quickly identify survivors of sexual violence and other particularly vulnerable people, "fast-track" them for special assistance including food and essential household items, and refer them if needed for medical attention. Women who are in immediate danger from domestic violence can take shelter in a community-based "safe haven" until they have somewhere safe to go.
Nearly 4,700 refugees have come to CARE for counseling and support in just over three months – 1,111 during the week of Aug. 28-Sept. 3 alone. The women who seek Janet's help have suffered more in a few weeks than anyone should bear in a lifetime.
Responding to the Different Needs of Men and Women
Today Janet met a client, who arrived two months ago and set up housekeeping on the outskirts of Dahagaley camp, in a crude hut made of cardboard boxes on a frame of bundled sticks. Before leaving Somalia, as her family's meager farm shriveled to nothing, the woman watched two of her three children die of hunger and disease. Crossing the desert on foot, she was robbed of everything – even her precious supply of water – then gang-raped. It is a horrifying story, but the woman speaks with a steady tone. She wants to give voice to the terror, to speak out on behalf of those who must remain silent in fear.
Men, too, suffer their own nightmares. Initially many stayed behind in Somalia to watch over homesteads and herds. But as famine continues to spread, crops have been decimated. When their last cattle starve, men are forced to make the trek to Dadaab in search of help. For those from proud, ancient pastoralist traditions, who measure wealth in terms of how many cattle a person owns, the loss of a sense of identity is devastating.
"Not quite as many men come as women, for cultural reasons, but they do come," said Sharif Ahmed Abdulahi, a CARE paracounselor trained in community development, life skills and counseling. He and his colleagues are careful to respect tradition and work in harmony with community norms. "Sometimes people ask me to tell them what to do. I say: I can counsel you, but I can't advise you. If you want advice, you should go to an elder."
Janet is busy recruiting additional staff to reach more people in need. She wants to hire and train more female counselors – just under half of the current refugee workers are women – but it's hard to find candidates who are literate, and many young girls are married off at age 14 or so.
But Janet is not someone who gives up easily. She thrives on challenge, and finds this work incredibly rewarding. One thing is clear: she's not going anywhere soon. "I plan to stay as long as I still like it. It will be a few years."
CARE staff Janet Ndoti Ndila works as a counselor in CARE's gender and community development project.
Posted by: Daniel Fava at 2:58PM EST on September 12, 2011
by Niki Clark, Emergency Media Officer in Kenya
When I told my family and friends that I was leaving for six weeks to work with CARE on temporary assignment in Dadaab, the world's largest refugee camp, I was immediately bombarded with Facebook messages, e-mails and calls along the lines of "I'm so proud of you. You're going to save the world!" and "You're making such a difference!"
To be honest, besides being a bit exaggerated, it makes me a bit uncomfortable. Now, don't get me wrong, I cannot emphasize how much I appreciate the good wishes and thoughts of my loved ones. Their support has allowed me to take this journey. But nothing — absolutely nothing — compares with the dedication and passion of CARE's employees in the field. And to even be put in the same category as these colleagues seems more than a bit ludicrous.
This past weekend, for example, I took part in my first real Dadaab celebration —complete with grilled goat (a rather tasty treat, if you're curious) — a send off for long-time CARE employee, Julius. Julius is leaving Dadaab for a new CARE post in Nairobi after nearly 19 years in Dadaab. Nineteen years! That's the equivalent of 133 years in a normal career, as I'm convinced Dadaab years should be counted like dog years. He joined CARE when the refugee population in the camps was around 35,000. Today, nearly 400,000 additional people have been added to that number.
For 19 years he has lived here away from his family. He most likely has shared a room and used a communal bathroom and shower. Because space is at a premium, when a staff member goes on leave, people exchange rooms, some moving every few weeks. There are no hanging photographs, no personal mementos. In many ways, the staff is unsettled as the new arrivals. They are nomads without a home. They work for hours on end in the unforgiveable combination of heat and dust.
I am here for six weeks, and even in that relatively brief time, I have succumbed to heartache and homesickness. I assumed that unlike me, the devoted staff in Dadaab must have solitary lives, free of the commitment of relationships. Until I met Maureen, a new coworker who casually mentioned her three-year-old son and husband back in Nairobi. Or another colleague who mentioned how he was planning some quality time with his wife during his next break. CARE staff work eight weeks on, two weeks off. Because of limited resources, sometimes even those brief breaks get shortened. But I have yet to hear a complaint. I have yet to see a frown. There is a Jewish proverb that says, "I ask not for a lighter burden, but for broader shoulders." CARE staff in Dadaab are star athletes in that regard.
In addition to the tough environment in which they work, the actual work they carry out is difficult. Imagine feeding 427,000 people. Getting clean water to them. Educating them. Training them. These jobs are difficult no matter the circumstances – but in these conditions, accomplishment is an amazing feat. Many that have made the long trek from Somalia have experienced personal violence or loss, each tale of tragedy and horror more unfathomable than the one before. CARE's sexual and gender-based violence officers have the colossal task of helping the survivors heal, start their lives anew. Day after day after day.
I asked a colleague why staff that work so hard, so tirelessly. And why are the people that CARE serves, people who have been through the most of trying of times, always smiling? Why despite everything that surrounds them, do they always greet me with a handshake, with a sense of joy? He answered, "Because we are Africans. We have been through so much and we survive. We have hope now."
No individual is saving the world. But here among CARE's dedicated staff, I have met a lot of people who are doing their part.
Posted by: Daniel Fava at 2:38PM EST on September 12, 2011
by Niki Clark, Emergency Media Officer in Kenya
I’ve been in Dadaab for nearly two weeks now. I have seen mothers and daughters, fathers and sons. They have been old and weak, young and weak, their faces lined with struggle. I have seen the faces of children who have eaten their first meal in weeks and the resulting transformation back to childhood, full of giggles and smiles and impromptu games of tag. When people think of Dadaab – now with its three camps considered the third largest city in Kenya – they think crisis. They think emergency. Humanitarian efforts and funding tend to focus on the immediate, looking ahead no more than a year. As soon as another emergency hits, the spotlight will move on. But, as they have for the past 20 years, the refugees of Dadaab will remain.
This thought particularly struck me during a visit to the reception center, the first place where refugees find help after a long and arduous journey. Here they receive medical assistance, and aid workers identify the most vulnerable for immediate attention. A chorus of wails echoes from the vaccination room: the occasional child slipping from the grips of the nurse, running to the dirt yard in tears. Each family collects a 21-day ration of food and supplies (cooking pots, mats, a tarp, soap, jerry cans) to tide them over until they can register.
Today, I see a young mother waiting for her high energy B-5 biscuits, a box of which is given out to new arrivals. Tucked under her garbasaar – a traditional shawl – a set of tiny toes poked out into the sunlight. I approached her gently, and she pulled back her wrap so I could see his miniature features. He is 10 days old, she tells me with a smile. She gave birth to him halfway through her journey to Dadaab. Most likely, I thought to myself, he will become part of the second generation that has spent their entire lives within this camp.
CARE has worked in Dadaab since 1991. Refugees who were educated as children here are now teaching refugee children themselves. That’s why the long-term investment that CARE is making here is so critical. It’s not just an investment in immediate needs, although we’re doing that, too. On an average day of food distribution, CARE passes out 389 metric tons of food to 45,000 people. And every single day, CARE pumps and distributes approximately 7.5 million liters of water, enough to provide more than 446,000 people with 15 liters of water every day.
But we’re also working toward long-term solutions. We’re investing in people. In Dadaab there is a thriving economy – butchers and bakers and, yes, probably candlestick makers. They own restaurants and bookstores and barber shops. People are being trained by CARE in trades from dressmaking and tailoring to computer technology. CARE directly employs 1,600 refugees, who serve as counselors, food distributors, chefs, teachers and drivers. They grow up in Dadaab, are educated in Dadaab and work in Dadaab.
After the “emergency” has passed, hundreds of thousands of people will remain here in the refugee camps. As my colleague told me today, they need more than food, water and shelter. They need a future. CARE is committed to helping them prepare for tomorrow, whether they continue to build their lives here, or one day, return home to start anew.
Posted by: Daniel Fava at 2:14PM EST on September 12, 2011
by Niki Clark, Emergency Media Officer in Kenya
The drive to the Galbet Farm in Garissa, Kenya, looks strikingly similar to the land around Dadaab, site of the world’s largest complex of refugee camps. It is dry and barren. The bush remains brown and leafless after months upon months without rain. It seems like an unlikely environment for a farm – one that will thrive, anyway.
But thrive is exactly what the farmers at Galbet Farm are doing. While the drought is killing the livestock and destroying people’s livelihoods in neighboring regions, this one small patch of land in Garissa is literally an oasis in the desert. It’s not just through happenstance. The people of Garissa knew a drought was coming so, with CARE’s help, they prepared.
For the past two and a half years, CARE’s Arid and Marginal Lands Recovery Project Consortium (ARC) has worked to promote drought-resilience in the Garissa, Moyale, Wajir and Mandera districts. The three-year project reaches more than 85,000 people, in a region where the drought is affecting half of the population – some 2.4 million people. In a region where 80 percent of the population is dependent on livestock, the death of animals is devastating.
CARE’s objective in launching the project in the aftermath of the 2008-2009 drought was to help vulnerable rural people gain sustained access to food and become more resilient in the face of future crises.
Maka Kassim is one of those people. As a pastoralist, she and her family followed their livestock wherever pastureland and water could be found. After a severe drought five years ago, her herd died and she was left with nothing. “I decided I needed to plan so I could provide for my family – so we could get our daily bread.” she says.
Today, Maka is flourishing. CARE taught her how to farm and diversify her crops to protect against disaster. As part of the Galbet Farm cooperative, she and the other farmers grow fodder grass, bananas, tomatoes and mangos. In addition to providing enough food for her family, including her six children, the farm has been so successful that she is able to supplement her income by selling extra produce at the market.
CARE also is helping improve water canals. Previously, farmers collected water from the Tana River, a time-consuming and dangerous task considering the river’s high population of crocodiles. The old canal cut through loose soil and experienced frequent breakages and high seepage that resulted in a large loss of water. Now, an abundant supply of water comes to the community to irrigate the land and provide fresh drinking water at tap stands.
Galbet Farm is just one of several ARC projects. CARE’s work through the project includes teaching beekeeping, fodder production, milk marketing and basic veterinary skills. We’ve also helped foster a relationship between First Community Bank and the Kenya Meat Commission. Farmers now purchase weakened cattle from drought-stricken districts, bring them back to the farm to fatten them up and then sell them for a profit.
“We want to serve as role models,” Maka says. “Because of CARE’s assistance, I am able to feed my family. I am able to educate my children. I am able to plan for my future.”
Posted by: clarence Tengbeh at 12:43PM EST on September 1, 2011
I am a social entrepreneur in the Republic of Liberia involved in the training of rural people with advanced beekeeping knowledge for the production of honey for sale on the local or foreign markets to create generation for target group thru Beekeepers Liberia, a Local NGO.
Posted by: Daniel Fava at 9:49AM EST on September 1, 2011
Niki Clark, CARE Emergency Media Relations Officer
Here I sit, 7,500 miles away from home. I’m a week in. Over the course of just a few days, my life has completely changed. On a Monday I reported to work at CARE’s Washington, D.C. office. By Thursday I was on a plane bound for Nairobi where my final destination would be Dadaab Refugee Camp, the world’s largest. I will spend the next six weeks here as CARE’s emergency media officer. It is a position that both thrills and terrifies me. As an employee of one of the most prominent global humanitarian agencies, there is always an excitement that surrounds “going to the field.” But this is different.
Unlike my colleagues who have preceded me in this position, and most likely the ones that will follow, I have not been in a humanitarian emergency crisis situation before. I haven’t seen the devastation of a Haiti or a Pakistan. The closest I’ve come was the fall of 2005, when my grandmother came and lived with us after Hurricane Katrina. Her Biloxi home had been destroyed. But even then, I witnessed the situation only through my constant refreshing of CNN.com, and through my grandmother’s stories, not firsthand. And Dadaab is unlike other emergency situations. It is established. There are second generation refugees that have grown up in the camps. I’m not quite sure what to expect. Or how what I experience, the people I meet, will forever impact me.
CARE has worked in Dadaab since 1991, as the main implementing partner for the distribution of food and water and as well as a lead provider of education and psychosocial support and rights education for sexual and gender-based violence survivors. We’ve been here for decades. But with the recent declaration of famine in five regions of southern Somalia, coupled with ongoing conflict and instability, a surge of new arrivals have flocked to the camp, and a global spotlight has been shone on the region, particularly on Dadaab. Dadaab’s population stood at 423,361 as of August 28th. Every single day, it grows by 1,200.
As we landed—my colleague Michael Adams, the Senior Sector Manager for the Refugee Assistance Program in Dadaab, and I flew in on a small UNHCR humanitarian aid plane—the pilot circled around towards the gravel airstrip. A bird’s eye view of Dadaab and its three main camps became visible below me. It was a breathtaking site, a massive settlement that’s now effectively Kenya’s third largest city. It’s hard to fathom until you’ve seen it. And even then, when it’s right in front of you, and you’re face to face with women and children and families that have traveled 80 kilometers or more to get here, there’s still something surreal about it all. Something that makes putting it into words seem a sort of insurmountable task.
But that’s what I’m here to do. To share the lives of the people I meet, people up against incredible odds, some who have thrived and some who are struggling to survive. To share the stories of the unwaveringly committed CARE staff whose dedication to the people they serve is first and foremost. To share the successes of CARE’s programming, and its far reaching impact. I’m not sure if I’m up to the challenge; if I can accurately portray the scale and struggles or the unexpected hopes and triumphs. But I do know one thing. I’m going to do my best. There are too many lives at stake not to.
For updates on my experience and CARE’s work in Dadaab, follow me at @nclarkCARE. I can also be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org