From excitement to tears in Dadaab refugee camp
In our culture we have this belief that when you are very excited about something, the excitement pools evil forces together and in the end something bad happens, and you cry. This has been true for me on many occasions, and I knew Dadaab would not be different. However there is no way of having a check on your excitement is there?
I did not sleep on Sunday night partly due to the unbearable heat and anxiety about the following day. If I missed the morning convoy I would be unable to go to the camps, and this kept me awake too. I made it to the car park way ahead of the set time and I was in the car before anyone else. I sat near the window so I could get a great view of my desert surroundings.
We set out with the convoy heading for Ifo. The UN cars passed our van as if it was at a standstill; their cars were made for this terrain and ours was surely not. In about fifteen minutes I was at the Save the Children office in Ifo. There was a quick introduction before Nemwel our Child Protection Officer, Julius the Photographer, two interpreters and I got to the car and headed to the camps.
The first home we visited created an urge in me to run away, take the next flight back home and hide from all the suffering I was hearing, but telling the families’ story was my work, and if I ran away I would fail. The family touched my heart.
Little space for new arrivals
There is hardly any space for new families in Dadaab camp, as it was designed to hold 90,000 people, and it’s now home to 300,000 people. And more refugees are still coming, mostly from Somalia.
This family of eight had taken in another family of seven and offered them a home in their small one roomed house. This is what heroes do! On that day I listened to cases of sexual abuse from young girls and stories of girls becoming very young mothers. I saw great suffering in the camps.
As we went back to the office at the end of the day my heart was very heavy. I was quiet and sad. I felt that if I uttered even a single word I would burst into uncontrollable tears, as the day was more than I can handle.
By Tuesday, the heat was no longer an issue; it was there, it stubbornly never leaves, but I had other things on my mind, like the uncertainty of what this day would hold for me.
From the office we went straight to the hospital. This visit took away all the assurance of hope I had given to myself in the morning. In the nutrition ward the beds were filled with children who were too weak to sit; they had malnutrition-related complications. Their mothers sat helpless beside them.
“When you’re not doing anything, these cases eat you up.”
There was one child who was so weak, but she smiled at us. She was four months old and she weighed only 2 kilos — which was lower even than her birth weight — but she still smiled. We made other home visits and the stories were equally sad. I was happy when the day came to an end.
As I got to bed on Tuesday, my eyes were burning with tears and I had to get rid of them, so I cried myself to sleep. After that I was ready for my last day in Dadaab. You can never get hardened to such situations.
Our staff on the ground go through this each day, but as one colleague told me, “It is when you are not doing anything that these cases eat you up. But for us they are an encouragement to keep working and solving problems for the children.”