IDP Camps in Kenya and Reason for Hope
Trip Start Aug 10, 2008
16Trip End Sep 30, 2009
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It was my sixth day in Kenya. I had been sent by World Emergency Relief to a small community centre near Naivasha to perform an audit of its orphanage, and to facilitate a
The families had been displaced after disputes over the results of the 2007 Kenyan presidential elections had triggered national unrest and bloodshed between the country’s ethnic lines. Ultimately, over a thousand perished and hundreds of thousands lost their homes in the wake of the political event. At the peak of the violence, an entire church was burned to the ground after hundreds fled to the building for safety. For an in-depth look at the crisis and the impact that it has had on the nation, please visit: http://www.irinnews.org/IndepthMain.aspx?IndepthId=68&ReportId=76116].
That morning, as the sky continued to swell and bruise, steaming kettles poured cup after cup of milky tea for the refugees, and coolers stacked with thick triangles of sweet
A line of men, women and children holding empty sacks bent around the church compound. Each individual wore multiple layers of clothing and most carried infants on their backs. A light rain started to fall, but no one moved from their position in line. All remained steady, silent and patient. One woman, acting as the spokesperson of the group, insisted on being the last to receive food.
"I don’t fill my bag, until everyone else has. I don’t want anyone to think I have special privileges here as the spokesperson or leader of the group. If someone comes to me saying that they didn’t receive their share, I can honestly say, 'Neither did I’."
Earlier in the morning, she had shared her story of being driven from her home after the elections. She had been cooking in her kitchen when she had heard screaming outside. As she went to see what the problem was, a relative rushed in suddenly, yelling that her house was on fire. She and her family escaped, but once outside, rescuing the house and its contents were not options. Those that had set fire to her home followed her family, driving them out of the area. Her voice waivered and started to rise, as she wiped the tears streaming down her cheeks.
"I nearly lost my son. I had to step in front of an arrow that was meant for him. Our house, everything was lost. I fled without even shoes on my feet."
The refugees at the camp spoke of packs of rival political parties (closely associated with opposing tribes), moving through their villages, setting homes on fire, and murdering those that didn’t align with their political party or tribe. At the IDP camp that day, it was common to hear "I lost my son (husband, wife, daughter....) two years ago." It was also common to hear that the perpetrators of the violence were once neighbors and old friends, a feature reminiscent of the Rwandan genocide. Two years after the election, tears still run down the creases of faces. The pain is still evident. The wounds have yet to heal.
Despite that many of their villages have enhanced their security since the elections, returning home is often not considered an option for the IDP. The refugees do not feel safe returning to their homes and living alongside the neighbours that destroyed their livelihood or killed their family members. Turning ‘the other cheek’ is considered foolish. Too many are concerned that they will be at risk again, and that their homes or land will be threatened.
Therefore, many of the farms and homes of the refugees remain vacant and unused (protected by local police forces until their return). The cultivation of maize (a crop produced by much of the refugee population) is at a national low, due to them not having land to safely cultivate. This and the drought has propelled the government to provide supplementary assistance to its citizens. However, as the refugees are currently residing on other people’s lands, they are not considered part of the national census and are, thus, considered unapplicable for such aid.
Originally, the government also promised the refugees monetary assistance to rebuild their homes/businesses, purchase new land and/or feed their families. As most have still yet to receive this from the administration - nearly two years later - many believe that Kenya has forgotten them.
In the end, it is easy to say who is at fault for the individual crimes that took place. The victims know the perpetrators. They are their neighbours and (what they thought of once as) friends. It is not easy or fair to blame a particular tribe more than another, as many are at
As I filled a pail with beans and emptied it into a passing individual’s sack, I watched as young men and women shuffled forward in line. Hearing their stories earlier in the day and seeing them there now, it was evident that the months and years of disappointment had pressed a sense of hopelessness onto the gathered crowd. Regardless if they unexpectedly receive more aid from an international source tomorrow, support from the government next month or hope for a source of steady income next year (ultimately, a chance to begin a new life!), the elections of 2012 still loom on the horizon. Many believe that violence will erupt again in the country, and offset anything gained.
That said, there is still reason for hope. Amidst the horror-filled stories of the violence they have endured, there are stories of good Samaritans, of individuals that (regardless of their tribal
The orphanage is an example of what the future can hold for the country. Comprised of multiple tribes, several of the children are even from post-election. “We are one Kenya,” they say. “We are one Kenya.” But, they do more than offer merely an example. For two days each week, the 200+ residents of the centre's orphanage participate in a fast to provide food to individuals less fortunate in their local community. On Wednesday, they go without lunch, while on Friday, they go without both breakfast and lunch. The uneaten resources from these fasts provide 200 IDP families with a week’s worth of food each month, and 60 HIV+ mothers with even more. With the food they provide each week, they help families survive. They help individuals get one day closer to a new beginning, to a new country, to a new life.
As one IDP said, “Yes, horrible things have happened, and people we love are no longer here, but WE are still here. We are still here two years later. Despite what we have endured, WE are still here. That is reason alone for hope.”
Beyond the monthly food distribution, plans are underway to further help the communities displaced by the post-election violence of 2007. If you desire to be a part of the solution, contact World Emergency Relief – UK at www.wer-uk.org. (It is important to ensure that you are contacting the UK office, rather than the US office, as they have different international partners.) The monetary support you provide can help their Kenyan international partner offer the refugees with support – be that land, food, a source of income - - ultimately, a source of hope.
Tell them Sister Heather sent you, and through your donation, tell the children, mothers, grandparents of post-election Kenya that they are not forgotten.