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At the MCC Materials Resource Center in Ephrata, Pa., volunteer John Garber of Elizabethtown, Pa., moves boxes of school kits that will be sent to the Hagadera refugee camp in northeast Kenya. (MCC Photo/Silas Crews)

At the MCC Materials Resource Center in Ephrata, Pa., volunteer John Garber of Elizabethtown, Pa., moves boxes of school kits that will be sent to the Hagadera refugee camp in northeast Kenya. (MCC Photo/Silas Crews)

MCC East Africa drought response grows

Gladys Terichow
October 12, 2011


WINNIPEG, Man. – Mennonite Central Committee’s (MCC) response to the drought and food crisis in East Africa continues to expand.

Donations to MCC’s drought response are enabling MCC to provide life-saving food vouchers, water and other support to tens of thousands of people in Somalia, Kenya and Ethiopia.

In Somalia, where food shortages are exacerbated by the on-going civil conflict, many people have fled their homes to the safety of refugee camps near the northeastern Kenyan town of Dadaab.

The camps, established in 1991 to accommodate about 90,000 people fleeing the ongoing conflict, are now home to more than 400,000 people, said Ron and Martha Ratzlaff of Calgary, Alberta, currently serving as MCC representatives in Kenya.

As the drought, food crisis and violence persist in Somalia, the number of people seeking refuge in the complex of four camps is expected to swell to 600,000 by the end of 2011. An estimated 60 percent are under the age of 18.

To improve educational opportunities for young people in the camps, MCC is sending 38,000 school kits to the Hagadera camp from its warehouses in Canada and the U.S. The schools are operated by Lutheran World Federation.

“Education helps break the cycle of poverty, and being in school improves the security for these children,” said Ron Ratzlaff. “Without education, even if they manage to find a life outside of the refugee camp, they would then be unable to find any work other than possibly casual labour.”

MCC is also sending 2,900 blankets and 500 sewing kits to the Hagadera camp and providing funds for the local purchase of 6,000 mosquito nets.  These practical items, the Ratzlaffs said, not only provide comfort to people living in very rugged conditions, they also demonstrate that someone cares for them. This is especially important as many have experienced unspeakable trauma during their hazardous journey to the camp.

In the Somali town of Dhobley, near the Kenya border, contributions to MCC are being used to provide emergency food assistance for new arrivals and their host families. Dhobley is on the same road as the Dadaab camps, which are about 100 kilometres (almost 65 miles) inside Kenya.

Marium Dahir, two daughters, ages 8 and 9, and a 15-year-old son, were part of a group that arrived recently in Dhobley. Dahir, a widow and mother of eight children, had told workers distributing food vouchers that she had not been able to leave the dire situation in her hometown near Kismaayo, in southern Somalia, because she didn’t have money for transportation costs to a refugee camp.

Friends from her community offered to pay for her trip to the Kenya camps but there was only enough money for four people. Desperate for help, she was forced to make the heartbreaking decision to leave behind five children with the hope of finding help and a way for the family to be reunited.

Less than 24 hours after arriving in Dhobley, the family received vouchers for emergency food and prepared a meal using the simple rations of rice, beans, oil, salt and sugar. “The meal I had last night was the best I have had in a year,” said Dahir.  “I was satisfied. Even my first night here, life is so much better than it has been before.”

Despite daily security issues, the voucher system makes it possible for food and other emergency assistance to reach people in need. Under this system, people receiving the vouchers can redeem them through buying the items listed on the vouchers at local shops. Prices are set in advance to lessen competition among the merchants.

Contributions from MCC and other organizations enable local organizations to reimburse the merchants. This system supports the local economy, builds relationships with community leaders and ensures food ends up in the hands of those who need it most. MCC’s partner in this project is World Concern.

The group Dahir was travelling with did not plan to stay in Dhobley. Dahir said she does not know what the future will hold for her and her children. “It is only God now that I can rely on,” she said.

For more information or to contribute to the efforts in East Africa, visit mcc.org/eastafricadrought.

Mennonite Central Committee: Relief, development and peace in the name of Christ

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MCC’s growing response

Ethiopia
*Emergency food assistance for over 67,000 people, including emergency food rations as well as supplementary food for pregnant women, nursing mothers and children.

Kenya
* Emergency food-for-work projects for 4,740 families in semi-arid Kenya supporting sand dam communities.

* Emergency food assistance for 8,400 drought affected families, including pastoralist families in northwest Kenya.

* Improving quality of education and access to education for Somalis in Hagadera refugee camp in northeast Kenya.

* Non-food items such as 38,000 school kits, 2,900 blankets, 500 sewing kits and 6,000 mosquito nets for Somalis in Dadaab refugee camp in northeast Kenya.

Somalia
* Vouchers for food, non-food items and water for displaced Somalis and their host families in Dhobley and surrounding locations.