• Faith decorates East Africa with flowers

    Posted by Micah

    25 August, 2011

    Stories of hope - How the funds raised by Micah Challenge endorsing agencies are making a real difference on the ground in East Africa.

    Makeshift shelters pitched in a dusty desert landscape. Newly-arrived refugees from Somalia for whom survival is the immediate priority. This is the reality for Faith Kagwiria (pictured below), lead social worker at Hagadera, one of the three camps in the Dadaab complex, which is managed by the Lutheran World Federation (LWF).

    Kawgiria has worked here for more than two years. The massive influx of refugees meant her team was recently expanded to help deal with the emergency. Kagwiria's hundreds of home visits have made her a familiar figure around the camp and its outskirts.

    Face of hope

    "The refugees call me 'Face' instead of 'Faith'," she says, smiling. "At a recent leaders meeting I was described as 'the one who decorates the camp with white flowers' -in reference to all the tents I have distributed to those who would otherwise sleep under trees."

    To join her and some of the team on a daily round is to see the challenging situation they face. The well-ordered system of the established camp has been joined by a sprawl of haphazard development on the outskirts, which shows no sign of slackening.

    More than 100,000 people have come to Dadaab since the start of the year. Since the refugee emergency was announced on 6 June, more than 73,000 refugees have come - and are still arriving - at a rate of up to 1,500 a day. With established camps full to bursting, the new arrivals settle on surrounding land where water is scarce and there is little or no proper sanitation.

    Left with nothing
It is to the settlement outside Hagadera that Kagwiria and her team go. LWF workers identify potential cases for social workers when the refugees are registered. LWF has a special responsibility for caring for the elderly. Kagwiria wants to do a follow-up visit to Fatouma Kamis Sagar, an 80-year-old woman among the new arrivals who came from Sako in Somalia a few weeks before.

    Clearly very weak, Sagar lies on blankets on the earth floor of her tukul shelter and has difficultly talking. Her story is taken up by Noor Somow Bydoe, her nephew, who brought the extended family group of 40 people to Hagadera by vehicle and finally on foot.

    "Our first vehicle broke down. So we transferred to another vehicle and it also broke down. Then we were met by bandits, who took all the small things we were carrying, our clothes and our money," says Bydoe, 55. "In the end the journey took 15 days. We arrived here with nothing." One of the children in the group, a baby girl, died on the way.

    His explanation as to why so many Somalis are willing to risk this hazardous trek is typical of the stories that can be heard every day in the Dadaab camps. It is the dual blight of hunger and insecurity that drives them to the border and safe refuge.

    'Conquering' the whole situation
So how does a social worker with limited resources respond to that kind of story? Faith notes down the details of Sagar's practical needs: she cannot properly eat solids and the family cannot afford to buy milk. The blankets she lies on have already been given by LWF, but she clearly also needs a mattress and proper shelter. Those things Faith can provide she will, for the rest she will refer the family to a partner agency who can help.

    Back in the office, a woman in her ninth month of pregnancy has been brought in by one of the elected community leaders. The woman and her three children have been staying with refugees in the main camp. They say that if she is given a waterproof sheet, the community will build the woman a tukul of her own in which to have her baby. The sheet is immediately issued from LWF stock.

    "I enjoy my work a lot. I take it as a calling not a career," says Kagwiria. "Like some people are nuns, I am a social worker. When I do my job I feel inside that this is what I'm supposed to be doing." 
But it is not just about distributing goods, however badly needed. It is also about giving moral support, she adds.

    "These people need a lot of support, but we do not always have a lot of things to give them. Then just going to see them, talking to them and seeing how they live, can mean a lot."

    Then Kagwiria smiles again: "Sometimes, if you can do something small for them, they make you feel as though you have conquered the whole situation. And when people are happy, I am happy."

    This article originally appeared on the Act for Peace website. Act for Peace is the international aid agency of the National Council of Churches in Australia and a member of the global ACT Alliance, along with LWF.