Guest post by Jonathan Ernst
Hello from Dadaab, Kenya, where Lutheran World Relief is helping to support the monumental effort by Lutheran World Federation to manage virtually all the goings-on at the world’s largest refugee camp.
Although the work is complex and the situation is dire, believe it or not, the news is not all bleak here. Every day I see simple acts of kindness and support — not just by aid workers, but also by longtime refugee residents who are now opening their dwellings and hearts to the famished “new arrivals,” as they’re called, who keep coming and coming.
Dadaab was designed to support 90,000 refugees fleeing fighting in Somalia. Due to the current crisis, a prolonged drought that has left millions in danger of starvation, that number has rocketed to nearly 400,000 and could top 500,000 in the coming months. No one knows what the new arrivals are going through better than the thousands who have preceded them. And someday, sadly, today’s new arrivals may have to return the favor to the next wave.
That’s why we can’t let this story fade from the spotlight. There’s still so much work we can do to help.
Yet from what I see, the story is starting to fade. The other night I met the crew of broadcast producers and technicians at the United Nations offices here who had just rotated in to take over the job of providing satellite access for news programs who come here to work, like ABC News and Anderson Cooper of CNN.
The UN broadcasters said they were prepared to do as long as a one-month rotation, but they were leaving after just four days because there were no more news crews who needed their help to go live from Dadaab to your living room.
The sign-in sheets at the guest quarters here at the Lutheran compound, and presumably the other aid organizations’ compounds, are also dotted with the names of print reporters and photographers who bunked here while making the same effort to tell the wrenching story of this place and the very poor souls who seek refuge here. But that was weeks ago.
The headlines may have faded, but the refugees’ plight has not changed. One aid worker I spoke with met a family yesterday who finally decided to come to Dadaab after two straight years of eating nothing but a small bit of sorghum porridge every day.
If you’ve never heard of sorghum porridge, you’re probably not alone. In the U.S. sorghum is typically used to feed livestock. Yet that’s all this family had to make up their two small meals every day — and eventually there wasn’t even that.
The news headlines may be moving elsewhere, but this story will go on — at least for Lutheran World Relief. Continuing to work with Lutheran World Federation, LWR will stay with the people of East Africa to respond to the immediate and pressing needs of the “new arrivals” to Dadaab as well as helping farmers in other areas salvage their land and crops.
Thank you for the prayers and the gifts that so many of you have offered up in support of our work in East Africa. If you’d still like to support this long-term, sustainable development response, you can by making a gift to LWR’s East Africa Drought fund.
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Jonathan Ernst is a journalist visiting the Dadaab Refugee Camps on behalf of Lutheran World Relief.