As Emergency Response Personnel HR Adviser it’s sometimes hard to get out of Head Office/capital city. So I found it a bit surreal at Wilson Airport, Nairobi waiting for the red-eye humanitarian flight to North Eastern Kenya knowing my day at work would involve the world’s biggest refugee camp – with over 300,000 people.
Nairobi’s chilly and I’m wearing two fleeces in evening in contrast in Dadaab’s desert it’s raining and very hot and humid. After a few days of rain there are fresh green shoots of grass everywhere, but not enough to plant food.
Our pickup met us at the landing strip and we drove through Dadaab town to the Save the Children base. Driving through the town some of the ladies are dressed in black with their faces covered and some are wearing vivid colours. I exchanged a glance with a beautiful young woman who gave me a friendly, cheeky smile.
UNHCR have a huge compound outside town – at least a couple of km sq – and then within that CARE have a compound. We have offices and accommodation there too.
I received a very friendly welcome from staff and enjoyed listening to the usual office wrangles: who forgot to order the vehicle, please would someone put the printer toner in. I typed up some contracts for new staff who are refugees. It was strange to have a man identified by ration card number and not a passport or id.
My daily routine is walk from office to the mess which takes about 3 mins. It’s then about 3 mins to my little house which has toilet – and shower that I haven’t got working yet so I’m on bucket baths. Food in the mess is fine. Lunch is rice with gravy, tomatoes and potatoes and bean stew and spinach. Dinner is the same but with goat.
I interviewed child protection staff in a traditional round toukal/hut with thatched roof. As we worked maribou storks paraded up and down outside and a family of mongoose capered around. I found it hard to concentrate!
Today I visited one of the three camps that make up Dadaab – Hagadaley. It reminded me of Harry Potter’s Diagon Alley. On the way we puttered through muddy potholes for a few miles passing groups of kids from the camps swimming and having fun in the large ponds that appeared on the road last week.
In the camp I sat with our dedicated and professional child protection officer, Jayne and heard heartbreaking stories.
A man who fled with his wife and 7 children from Somalia also carried with him his neighbour’s two year old and baby as they were alone in the house when the fighting got near. He has cared for them now for two years. He came to Dadaab two months ago and the Red Cross traced the children’s parents to another refugee camp. Save the Children will now help reunite the children with their parents.
Another girl I met was a quiet, shy 20 year old, she had 7 children with her. Her parents had passed away and so she’d lived in Mogadishu with her grandmother. The fighting got worse so she took charge of 7 of her siblings and cousins and travelled the two hundred miles to reach the camp in Dadaab.
That’s how she told her story; factually. I can’t imagine the emotional turnmoil of what she had been through.
The children ranged from 7 to 17. There were 4 boys and 3 girls. They’d just arrived and she was looking for help. Jayne patiently explained the support she could receive – a plot to live in and shelter, and ration cards for the whole group and schooling. While she arranges school the children can go to one of our Child Friendly Spaces to meet other children and play games. She was too afraid to let the children leave the house without her as she thought they would be beaten but Jayne reassured her they would be safe in our Child Friendly Space.
Hopefully they will find safety and stability in the camp although it is struggling to deal with the current numbers and there are child protection issues that our staff are striving to address.
I’m headed back to Nairobi to support the HR team as we carry out the vital work of recruiting people to help us expand our work here.