Dadaab Camp, Kenya

Just two days ago the Kenya Government informed the UNCHR that the Dadaab Refugee Camp in northern Kenya would be closed in November 2016. This camp has been in operation since 1991 and has housed mainly Somali refugees. It is home to 320,000 refugees, making it the largest refugee camp in the world. Zataari, the refugee camp for Syrians in Jordan, houses 80,000 people. Dadaab is four times bigger.

While we continue to see the European migration crisis in the headlands and see nightly images of refugees crossing the Mediterranean Sea being picked up by EU search and rescue ships, we tend to forget the 20 million refugees who lives in protracted situations like those in Dadaab. Around the world some 60 million people are displaced persons caused by wars, famine and climate change crises.

Dadaab camp itself began in 1991 as a refugee camp to house displaced persons from Somali. There were initially 90,000 people in the camp. It has grown exponentially since, its numbers varying with the seasons of the conflict situation in Somalia itself.
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In the last two years, the Kenyan Government has become increasing convinced that the camp is enabling the presence of Al-Shabaab militants in the area and wants it closed. Kenyan miltiary forces have been engaged for some time in an on-going operation against Al-Shabaab within Somalia itself. MSF personnel have been kidnapped by Al-Shabaab within the camp and sold on to the pirates on the coast.

Damian McSweeney, an Irish Aid representative in the camp and a lecturer at University College Cork, believes that the Kenyan military operation has as its long-term goal the complete refoulement of Somali displaced persons back to Somalia itself. This will expose them to violence, a precarious living environement and, perhaps, a long-term period of insecurity beyond the reach of the humanitarian agencies. Agencies such as the UNHCR are extremely concerned about this evolving situation.

Let us not forgot the Dadaab Camp refugees.

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A Story about Elephants

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John Feehan, in his book The Singing Heart of the World, describes an event during his time as a geology teacher in Malawi. He had been recruited by Banda to be a science teacher at an elite school, based on English public school concepts, that was intended to educate Malawi’s future leaders.

He had gone with others on safari to a small game camp near a Catholic mission at Lwangwa located on the west side of the Zambesi river. During the night he left his tent because he had been awakened by what he calls a ‘whispering noise’. When he went outside into the darkness of the African night lit by the immensity of the starry night he saw a troop of elephants passing among the tents on their way somewhere, as if, to quote Izak Dinesen, “they had an appointment at the end of the world”. They were quite unheeding of his insignificant human presence. Their majesty, their presence, and their atunement to their natural environment made a deep impression on the young geology master.

Transfixed is the word for it, the hair on the back of my head on end, not out of fear but in awe of this thing that was happening, at the sheer wonder of their presence in the night, at such grace surrounding me. And in two minutes I suppose they were gone, and the world was empty.

Today, in Malawi the elephant is under threat from tobacco growing, a crop that is wreaking havoc on the agricultural and environmental potential of Malawi. Child labour is used on the tobacco plantations. Everywhere the elephant is still at risk despite numerous efforts to raise awareness of the threats to its habitats.

Just this morning I was listening to an interview with the President of Malawi, President Mutharika, on BBC’s Hard Talk. Malawi is now one of the poorest countries in the world despite its wealth of natural resources. He was particularly unapologetic about the tobacco industry. Rampant corruption is undermining efforts in all areas.

The failure of world leaders to appreciate the damage to global ecosystem and the threat to the future of the planet is exemplified in Mutharika’s attitude. The fate of the human world and that of other species is inextricably interrelated. Loss of biodiversity and of species such as the elephant is a threat for us all, for life on this planet.

Time for us to wake from our amthropic slumber, to misquote Hegel.

See the interview here,

Project Zambia

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Aidan Donaldson, a teacher and chaplain at St. Mary’s Grammar School, Belfast, has for many years been involved with poor children, their parents, and their teachers in Zambia. Over time his involvement and that of his friends and colleagues has evolved into Project Zambia. This project now sponsors a number of key initiatives on the ground in Zambia. Schools have been built, clinics established and accommodation for teachers been erected. 

Aidan has been a key contributor to re-imagining the Edmund Rice Network in Ireland. He has consistently reminded us that words, fine thoughts, and prayers matter little unless they are linked in some way to compassionate action with and for poor people. His books, Encountering God in the Margins and Come Follow Me: Jesus and the Church Today: Recalling the Dangerous Journey, are both statements of personal faith and calls to action. Well worth reading and available from Veritas.

Below is a recently circulated letter from Aidan following his summer programme in Zambia with friends, students and colleagues.

 

Greetings from Zambia.

 

The past couple of weeks have been exciting and (as usual) emotional.  Lots of progress and lots of challenges.  As you all know the purpose of immersion is to go ever deeper into the margins and not only try to make some difference to the lives and futures of some of the poorest and most vulnerable people in the world but also to allow that difference to be made to each of us who engages in immersion. 

 

I could list the very positive developments that have been made (by the host communities and their leaders supported by PZ) in Mapepe, Kabwata, Kanyama, Kabweza, St Lawrence’s and St Catherine’s.  I could quantify success such as the new water tower in Misisi which now provides clean water and sanitation for the 350 children at St Catherine’s (which started with 6 children huddled in a tiny room when Project Zambia first engaged with this community) and the hundreds of people in Misisi slum who also now have access to water.  We intend to provide a bore hole for the blind community at Kabweza next week.  The completion of the school in Mapepe also is a great occasion for celebrating the achievements of the people of Mapepe (aided by Project Zambia).  The incorporation of ‘St Dominic’s’ in the new name is fitting indeed and demonstrates the very close relationship we have with the communities in Zambia and how much they respect and value that relationship.  The opening of the orphanage in Mapepe for children at extreme risk such as Precious is another wonderful development and another challenge.  It is absolutely necessary and we will have to somehow find the funding to support it.  And we will.  Of that I have no doubt.

 

I could go on and list more but I will stop for now.  Immersion is above all becoming brother and sister for each other and especially those who have been abandoned – the powerless, the poor and the marginalised.  Today our immersion journey brought us to that very special and sacred space that is the ‘school’ for the disabled in Kanyama slum.  To call it a school is a misnomer.  It is a tiny, dark, dank and incredibly crowded room about the size of a container.  It is split by small black boards into three ‘classrooms’ each approximately two metres by two metres in which 49 disabled children are taught by three qualified teachers – themselves disabled!  And they do not receive any funding or salaries.  And now the Government is evicting them as it wants to use the land for other purposes.  This is why Project Zambia is funding the new project which will provide a school, orphanage, teachers’ accommodation and a hospice for the terminally ill.  It’s a big undertaking but we have done this in the past before and the first building on the new site should be completed in the next couple of weeks.  Cecilia and the teachers hope to start the new school in January next year.  That is a very ambitious and challenging target date but when you look at these little children trying their best to learn among crutches and wheelchairs (hung on the walls due to lack of space) you realise that God has called Project Zambia to a very special mission indeed.

 

It was also lovely for Aoife to hand over the very important gifts from Fleming Fulton School  in Belfast which will make such a difference to this most impoverished of communities.  Aoife is off to town with Cecilia to use the very generous donations from Fleming Fulton to buy vital equipment such as duvets, mattresses, an exercise ball etc. which will help with the physio side of this school.

 

While the new school is being built we reflected on how we can help in the day to day life of the school.  The two things the teachers badly need is funding for a feeding programme for these children.  Without school they are literally locked in their homes in the slums when their parents go out.  There is no one to mind them and a disabled child in Africa is seen as an embarrassment/curse.  These little ones survive on the love and generosity of people like teachers Helen, Susan and Doris for a meal every day.  And these most inspirational women have scarcely any income themselves.  Project Zambia will be looking at how we can help in providing a feeding programme for these children and some very basic allowances for these wonderful women.  That would make such a difference to places like Kanyama Special School.

Speaking Out

Against a Tide of Evil

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On March 12th, 2013 the Institute of Human Rights at University College London (UCL) hosted an evening lecture on the current situation in Darfur. The event was intended to highlight the on-going humanitarian and human rights challenges in that part of Africa. One of the speakers was Mukesh Kapila, currently a professor at the University of Manchester and and advisor to the United Nations on public health issues. In 2003-2004 Mukesh Kapila was the UN Special Representative in the Sudan.

Kapila’s Story

Sometime in 2003 Kapila and a colleague flew over the devastated region of Sudan called Darfur. They were investigating the burgeoning humanitarian crisis in the region. Stories were filtering through of villages razed to the ground, crops destroyed and animals killed. Thousands were already fleeing the area. As they flew over the area they noticed something that caught their attention. A pattern emerged of villages destroyed while within twenty or thirty kilometres similar villages were intact. How could this be explained?

When they got back to Khartoum, Kapila and his colleagues using mapping skills acquired in the public health field noticed that the GPS coordinates of the villages observed coincided neatly with those villages that could be identified as black African villages and Arab African villages. Black African villages were the ones destroyed while Arab African villages were intact. The conclusion was clear to Kapila that exactly ten years after Rwanda the world was witnessing a genocide in the making.

Kapila took his concerns to the UN headquarters in New York. No one wanted to listen. The word ‘genocide’ could not be used to describe what was going on. Political sensitivities within the United Natíons prevented any imputation of involvement in genocidal actions on the part of the government of the Sudan or by groups allied with it. A humanitarian crisis, yes. A genocide, no. Yet, to Kapila the evidence was clear, a genocide was taking place. But no one wanted to hear this message.

Kapila could have remained silent and colluded in the silence. He didn’t. Instead, he took the decision to speak out. He contacted the BBC in Nairobi and arranged to give an interview on the BBC World Service at a time of the day when New York was asleep. By the time UN headquarters came to work in the morning it was already too late. Kapila had informed the world of what was happening in Darfur. He lost his job immediately. But his message to the world was taken up by Tony Blair who ensured that the story of genocide in the Darfur region was brought to the attention of Security Council of the UN.

The Situation Today

Today, we are aware that 300, 000 people have died in the Darfur region. Some three million people are in camps. The political sensitivities still continued to make intervention in the region problematic. The Sudan regime places obstacles in the way of humanitarian action by international organisations. But at least the world knows now what is going on. Darfur is no longer regarded as simply a humanitarian catastrophe that is exclusively the outcome of shifting population patterns and the impact of climate change in the Sahel. The spill-over the crisis in to Chad and now Mali makes it clear that larger geopolitical forces are in play.

Telling the Story

Kapila discussed the situation on the BBC World Service’s Outlook programme recently. His story is documented in his new book called Against the Tide of Evil. It should be on all our reading lists.

It’s not easy to be an Orphan

Aidan Donaldson, Belfast, sent us this very moving story from Cecilia in Zambia. The story tells is the story of an orphan girl in Zambia. At a time when we are focused on the situation of the Magdalen Laundries women, this story is a reminder tha…

Sexual-exploitation-of-girls

Aidan Donaldson, Belfast, sent us this very moving story from Cecilia in Zambia. The story tells is the story of an orphan girl in Zambia. At a time when we are focused on the situation of the Magdalen Laundries women, this story is a reminder that exploitation takes many forms. In Africa and in other parts of the world exploitation can be horrific, even life-threatening.

Read on.

This girl is a single orphan whose mother died when she was young. Soon after the father re-married a woman who has nothing to do with this girl. She asks the girl to be going round the community to be looking for work and contribute towards food at home. The girl has been drawing water around and people have been giving her ZMK 500 (that’s 7 pence to carry a heavy drum of water from the pump to people’s homes).  This money could only just buy you a lollypop!    Now listen to what happened.

A 48 year old man who was giving her K500 ENDED UP ABUSING HER almost every day. Because of poverty I am sure that she had no choice and that she took that to be normal because her step mother wanted her to be contributing towards food. Now she has the STI SYPHILIS. She was diagnosed two weeks ago and at the clinic after finding out that she had STI they told them that this was a police matter therefore they need to get a police report if she is to be put on medication. Since then the parents are quiet.  They have never gone to the police and the girl’s situation is getting worser every day. Teachers and I were with her today just to see what we can do. We thought of going to the police on Monday and get the report so that the girl can be put on medication  But the challenge is this – will this life stop after helping her.  Will the girl now be infected with HIV/AIDS?  Will the girl ever have children? What will happen in case she gets to be pregnant?  It is really a challenge but we will see what we can do though not easy.   Pray for us to try and handle this case in a positive way. I will post her photos on my facebook profile picture so that you can see her and possibly pray for her. The child is now failing to walk normally. “LIFE CAN SOMETIMES SEEM TO BE UNFAIR TO THE POOR PEOPLE WHO DONT KNOW WHAT TO DO.

Cecilia