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Dadaab- Hot, hot, hot!

The children and me in Dagahaley refugee camp
The children and me in Dagahaley refugee camp

Being in the desert in Africa is a whole new experience. I have seen wind, rain, heat, the most amazing sunsets and a night sky filled with stars so bright you can see the Milky Way and you want to dive right in! It is beautiful! I can’t remember the amount of Fantas in glass bottles I drank, as they are cheaper than water and just seem tight in Africa! 

On Monday morning I travelled in a small UNHCR plane from Wilson airport with about 15 other people over the desserts of Kenya to Dadaab, close to the border with Somalia and home to 300,000 who’ve arrived since 1992. Every month this year, between 5,000 and 6,000 new arrivals join these camps and collectively Ifo, Dagahaley and Hagadera makes the up the worlds biggest refugee camp. 

On Tuesday morning we travelled in the escorted convoy from the head office in Dadaab town (if you can call it a town) to Ifo, the first camp. There are 12 NGO’s that are based in the head office compound and the compound is bigger that Dabaab town, and all are responsible for different areas in the camps. At the moment, Save the Children is running an incredible Child Protection programme out here, and along with our wider child protection activities in the camps, we’re assisting in the relocating of 12,900 refugees to Kakuma, another camp in north-west Kenya, closer to South Sudan. Strangely some people are very eager to go even thought they have no idea what the camp will be like! Save the Children are helping to make sure no unaccompanied minors get loaded onto the buses, or that children are with their parents, and not being trafficked or abducted. It has been very effective, but there is a tight deadline to get this done, as all the relocations have to happen in the next 5 weeks! 

In Ifo I had a chance to go see our ‘child-friendly space’ for children, which at the moment isn’t very child-friendly, due to a complete lack of funding towards it. There are no toys, the building looks like a church to the 98% Muslim community, the seats next to the football field are so high, no child can get onto it, there is no wheel chair access, and not enough bathrooms. The signs that explain what the area is are in English, in a community where almost no one can speak English.  Emma Drew, the Field Office Manager here told me her plans for the space and with £80,000 they can completely transform and equip all 7 of the safe spaces here. I am coming back passionate to make a change in these spaces!

In Dagahaley, the second camp, I was privileged enough to visit to families that are foster parents. Firstly I met Mariam, who came from Somalia with her two young children after her husband was killed. It took them 20 days to walk to the refugee camp, and when they go here they met a boy who they knew from their home town who was completely on his own. He was registered with them and he is now part of their family. They live in the smallest little hut all 4 of them, and I am not sure how they all fit in, but they are so positive and happy to be there, because they are away from the fighting! 

After leaving their shelter, I was introduced to 17-year-old Khalid, who told me his story. His parents left Somalia and went to Ethiopia where their village was raided. He had to watch while his parents and sister were killed. Luckily he found his way to the Refugee Camp here. He was placed with Haweeya who herself fled Somalia. At 35 she is currently living in a shelter with some of her 8 children who survived and foster children including Khalid. In Somalia, she and her daughter Sahra, who is now 14, were out of the house and a bomb exploded by their home killing her husband and some children. Sahra got burns on her stomach from the blast and bits of scrapnel, and got treatment in Somalia. They escaped to Kenya, but as she brought no medical records with her, we don’t know what treatment she received. She has huge scars, and constantly complains of stomach pains, but the advice she is receiving is that there is not much else they can do. There is clearly an infection, and I spoke to her councilor to see if we can get another check up for her. 

One of the biggest problems in the camps is discrimination against minority groups. Some children from these groups can’t actually go to school, collect water, or collect food, as they will get stoned on the way. It is a massive problem, and Save the Children has got a project starting in September to try and solve this situation. 

Sahra, for example, is rejected from her community because of her scars. People shout names at her, calling her a cripple and throwing stones at her, which means she can’t get to school, or to our safe spaces. 

I have seen many animals… Maribu storks (ugly big birds that eat anything!!), donkeys, geep (a sheep that looks EXACTLY like a goat and they sleep in the middle of the road!), goats that eat entire sheets of plastic, some cows, 100s of cats and a herd of camels! This has been en experience I will never forget, but I am ready for a hot shower, sleeping without a mosquito net, and being able to tell everyone the stories of the people I have met here. 

So, during this blog I drank two bottles of Fanta, just to make sure I have my proper daily intake 🙂 I am leaving in about two hours and can’t believe this adventure is coming to an end. I will never forget the kids that crawled into my heart, both here and Nairobi. 

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