Forgotten People
Internally Displaced People in Kenya

 Displaced People in plastic tents

Since the agreement between the two main political parties in Kenya was signed on February 29th there has been some semblance of peace in the country.  As you know during the post election violence many people were displaced and were taken to camps where they became Internally Displaced People – IDP’s.  In the beginning there was a tremendous outpouring of help for the people in the camps and they received food, blankets etc.  After the initial shock of realising that this tragedy could happen in Kenya, people became more used to having displaced people in camps and while we may have been concerned about it we kept hoping that eventually they would be able to go back to their own homes.  The new coalition government set up a programme by which these suffering people could go back to their homes but we discovered that simply providing transport to take people back to their homes was only part of the answer. 

What would you do when you returned to your home and found a burnt out shell and all your property destroyed?  What would you do when you discovered that your cows or sheep or goats or chickens had been taken by your ‘neighbours’?  How would you feel when you discovered there was still hostility towards you?  That the people who chased you away and destroyed your home were still not anxious to have you back?  That your land was being planted by someone else who claimed it as theirs?  What would you do now?  Once you had been able to feed, clothe and pay school fees for your family from the crops you were able to grow or the small business you built up, but now instead of being self-sufficient you are dependent on others? But these others no longer have the same amount of resources to help on the same scale.

This week we went on a journey that became a pilgrimage.  First we went to Molo, an area where the people have been very badly traumatised by the post election violence and we discovered that many people are still suffering.  People have been moved to their home areas but because of insecurity and fear they are staying together.  We travelled up this dirt road going higher and higher and I wondered where we could possibly find people in this area.  Eventually we reached a small hill where we found a quite a number of people sheltering in make-shift ‘tents’.  In fact a few sticks had been stuck into the ground and a plastic sheet thrown over them.  As the structure was no more than two and half feet high and about one and half feet wide, we had to get down on our hands and knees to enter. In the first one we tried to enter we discovered Mama L... who had given birth to twin boys a few days ago.  Needless to say they were far from a hospital or clinic and the other women had helped to deliver them and we could see were still caring for the mother and babies.  Mama L... has five other children and a husband who were being accommodated in another structure as there was no space for them in the first one.  How all of them managed in the other structure of the same size I do not know.  Each of the structures was about the same size and we heard many other stories of how people had been chased away and their homes destroyed.  There is no electricity and very little water for cooking or washing.  The families have grouped together for security at night but during the day they try to go back to their shambas to dig.  One woman said she had a borehole in her home, which was near by but the home was burnt and the borehole poisoned so she had nothing.  Molo is cold and so we came with 180 blankets and 100 mattresses for the women in particular so that at least they would not be on the cold, damp ground and have some warmth at night.  The images of these suffering people stay with me, challenge me and make me very uncomfortable.

The next day I went in a different direction to another part of Nakuru. Here many people were displaced.  During the worst of the violence I was given monetary donations from people both in Ireland and Scotland and was able to help people in this area through the local Parish Priest and the local Chief.  We bought food, blankets, and mattresses for many of the displaced people in this area who lost their homes and property and were left with nothing.  Today we wanted to see how the displaced people were getting on and what if any assistance they might need now.  As we were driving along we could see fields of maize that had withered because of the lack of rain.  Maize and beans are the stable crops in Kenya and the fact that the maize plants have died means famine.  Later talking with some of the people they said that the beans did not even begin to grow because of the lack of rain.  Again we found many people in similar structures beside their burnt out homes, grouped together for security.  We went to visit Mama J... and she told us that she had been in the church in Eldoret when it was burnt.  She managed to get out but when she returned home it was totally destroyed.  But she thanks God that she is alive.  At the time she was pregnant and has seven other children.  Somehow she managed to get to this area of Nakuru where a relative gave her a ‘home.’  It is one room with a dirt floor, mud walls that are falling down and not another thing in it.  Mama J... has been getting assistance such as blankets, mattresses, and food, and is grateful but the difficulty now is to try and help her with an income generating project so that she can support her family.  Her husband is in another area but cannot get the money to travel to be with the family.  When we asked her what kind of income generating project she could do she was at a loss to come up with anything and we ourselves were also stuck as the area is poor and there do not seem to be many possibilities. We will continue to try and help.

Next we went up a track, going higher and higher until I thought we would reach the top of the near by mountain, going along this track which in some places seemed to disappear to visit the home of man whose home was burnt and he also is living with his family in one of these structures. He has received food and blankets. Next we visited Mama M... who has five children and a room where the five of us where crowded when we stood up in it. At night she brings in the mattress and blankets we gave her and puts them on the floor for the family.  Her kitchen is outside and when it rains she cannot cook.  In another home we visited we found the ruins of what must have been quite a large house that had been burnt.  Again the family have a structure similar to the ones we had seen and in which they shelter at night while the husband patrols the area to keep them safe.  We were shown their shamba where the maize had withered and a few withered leaves from the beans they had planted were visible.  While we were talking many more people came to ask for help.  The Chief told us that there are 500 people suffering from starvation and many more who are hungry. 

We continue to try and help these people with the resources that we have left.  Each time we give something we make it clear that we are only able to help them because someone helped us and we ask them to pray for the donors and their families.

                                                                                                        Sr. Ann McAllister, FMSA