Over the past few days Michele, leader of the Study Tour, has given us a glimpse to life in Burundi. After safely seeing the students home, Michele is now in Kenya at one of the largest refugee camps in the world, Dadaab. As famine continues to spread throughout the Horn of Africa, people arrive daily to Dadaab in hopes of finding food and refuge. Reporting from ground zero, Michele shares with us life in Dadaab, home to thousands of refugees.
Travel an hour by flight north of Nairobi to Dadaab, one of the world’s oldest refuge camp. As we came down through the cloud cover there was literally nothing to be seen. Just miles upon miles of red land. The oppressively warm air hit my skin as we stepped out of the plane. A film of dust immediately covered my entire body and I could feel it beginning to coat my throat, lungs and nose.
The refugee camps stretch as far as the eye can see, currently housing nearly 400,000 people. 1,500 new people register here everyday, making Dadaab not only the oldest, but also the largest refugee camp in the world. Black plastic bags and trash attach themselves to every object. Cattle and goats with bones jutting out of their sides wander the streets. Donkeys—a completely drought resistant animal—seem to be the only creatures truly surviving.
Vultures as tall as I am [editors note: Michele is 5 foot] with a wingspan equally as long, stalk the area—an ominous reminder of death. We drove past row after row of small shelters created by molding sticks curved into domes and covered with old clothes, plastic, and any other materials to be found. Two vultures sat on either side of the door, waiting. I shuddered thinking of the dire situation that must be taking place inside this home, that would attract such unwelcomed company.
We walk through the areas where World Vision is employing locals to build 200 new tents per day for the rush of new families. Stepping carefully over thorns hidden in the sand and avoiding prickly trees, it is a wonder that the majority of the people are walking around barefoot.
The residents of Dadaab, mainly Somalians, have traveled far distances to be here. For some, the journey was more than 100 miles and took a month long. I was surprised to learn that it was not the conflict of their war-torn country that brought them here, but rather the complete scarcity of food in their homeland. After their livestock die and they can no longer plant food, they are left with few choices other than to begin walking.
I have seen hunger and I have seen malnutrition but this absolute starvation of life is beyond my comprehension. While I meander through the flat camp, I cannot stop thinking that this is not how our brothers and sister deserve to be living. The fact that this lifestyle, this drought-stricken lifestyle, is better than what they were facing at home simply breaks my heart.
Tonight I’m sleeping in a tent just outside of the refugee camp. It is strong and secure yet the wind still threatens to tear it down. I can only think of what it must be like for the 400,000 refugees trying to get some sleep in Dadaab tonight.