I am standing in what many describe as the largest refugee camp in the world, in eastern Kenya. It is filled with Somalis who have fled the horrifying famine now spreading across their homeland.
My first time experiencing the impact of true famine first hand was on July 20th, 2011. This is the day that the United Nations declared Famine in the Horn of Africa. I was on a volunteer mission at the world’s largest refugee camp in Dadaab, Kenya, and the horrors I witnessed have impacted me ever since. Why Care? Because no one deserves to suffer like that.
The scenes I have witnessed outside of the Kenyan town of Dabaab, a mere 100 kilometres from the Kenyan-Somali border, defy description. Nothing could prepare me for this tragedy unfolding before my very eyes. It is hard to make sense of something so senseless.
All around me, television crews set up their cameras under the hot sun, creating a carnival-like atmosphere incongruous with the landscape of hunger and despair. They have come here in search of the best possible “angle” to film starving children and dazed families, who use what little energy they have to desperately flee the twin specters of chaos and starvation.
Meanwhile, aid workers from around the world furnish this place with a measure of hope that inspires and amazes me. They prevent me from becoming completely heartbroken because they show, through their urgency and actions, that individuals can make an enormous difference in a crisis such as this. If angels do exist, they exist in these workers.
At a “reception centre” at the camp that welcomes new refugees; more than 1,300 new arrivals have come seeking relief… seeking hope.
The first triage station here is “health status” where it is determined who is malnourished. Yesterday the sole doctor on duty confirmed that all 1,300 qualify. Yet the centre can only deal with 20 people at a time, so this overwhelmed physician was left with making profound life and death decisions. Even though everyone is classified as “severely malnourished” only some get the attention they need.
Imagine for a moment being one of these Somali mothers and fathers, staring down into the pleading eyes of your children.
Or imagine being the aid worker, having to say, “Please come back tomorrow,” knowing that tomorrow, the mother or father will return alone or carrying their dead child.
Standing in the hot sun, taking in these thousands of moments of pathos, one cannot help but reflect. I am emotionally drained by the end of the day, and yet what I have seen fills me with an intense drive to want to help.
How can one see these scenes of suffering — the forlorn families in search of a little loving kindness — and not feel their heart becoming swollen with compassion and a desire to alleviate the suffering.
I care because no one deserves to suffer like that. I care because no one should have to choose between his or her children. I care because I want to see a Better Planet, a planet where hunger is a thing of the past.
Written by Gavin Armstrong, University of Guelph