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HORN OF AFRICA/ Maria (AVSI): Hunger and lions are taking the children of Dadaab

Thousands of refugees, victims of wild animals and bandits, come to Dadaab every day in search of food and hope. The story of AVSI worker Maria Li Gobbi.

Maria Li Gobbi working in the Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya Maria Li Gobbi working in the Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya

People walking. They meet along the road that runs from the compound of the High Commissioner of the United Nations for Refugees (UNHCR) at Dadaab to the camp at Ifo. They are refugee camps, among the largest in the world. 400,000 people.

People following carts with tall pyres of wood pulled by slow donkeys, boys that bring herds of too-skinny cows through land who’s only green are the acacia shrubs. A semi-desert land that has been practically dry for two years. The sand and dust raised by the cars that are being escorted into the camps block visibility. The closed windows prevent people from feeling the wind that blows the people’s clothes as they walk in the middle of this nothingness. In this land, which is not even marked on a map though it is becoming the fourth Kenyan city.

The domed roofs that one can see all around are built with braches of shrubs and covered with rags. Getting out of the car, one is swept away by the wind that tumbles everything. Here in Dadaab, there is always a strong wind. The sky is always covered and clouds threaten every day. In Italy it is an unmistakable sign that a storm is coming. Not here. It never rains here. According to the UN, the famine that is gripping Somalia is the worst in the last 60 years. Everyone is escaping from that place, which was already difficult before all this. And many arrive here. 95% of the population here is Somali.

In the refugee camps, there is always a lot of movement, many people on the move. In the Ifo camp, in being since 1992, life seems organized. There are stores, a market, schools, hospitals, restaurants, cell phone sellers, tailors, internet points and, naturally, many people on the road, everywhere, in movement. At first sight, it almost seems like any other African village. But if one goes closer, it is not so. Upon entering, one notices signs with the names of the sections, houses that are not houses but all thrown together, latrines communal to too many families, and the names of humanitarian organizations like AVSI that are here.

Since 2009, in fact, on the request of the UNHCR and the Italian Cooperation, we are putting together an educative intervention here in Dadaab. We are fixing schools, building new ones and training teachers so that they can teach the children. And now we are busy with AGIRE (Italian Agency for Emergency Response) working on this new drought emergency.

Leaving the center of the camp, things change. People are on the road, but the houses become sparser, the stores, latrines and water collection points disappear. Almost everything disappears. White tents with the blue UNHCR crest soar. They are the ones managing the camp, and we work for them. There are many people waiting to be registered and to have a little water, food and a place to sleep. It is an almost impossible job. More than 1,500 people arrive each day.