International Rescue Committee (IRC)

Somalis helping Somalis

Many others have written about the unfathomable human suffering that is playing out in the Horn and East Africa due to the drought and famine.  After visiting the International Rescue Committee’s programs in the Dadaab region of Kenya I sit here staring at my computer screen and — even as a 17-year aid veteran — no words seem adequate.  The best thing I can offer is to share what is not being reported:  the heart-wrenching charitable efforts of Somali refugees themselves. 

The IRC has been working in the Hagadera camp in Dadaab for nearly three years, assisting refugees who had fled the escalation of conflicts in neighboring Somalia.  Now, it is a natural disaster rather than a man-made one that is driving as many as 1,400 people a day to Hagadera.   Many have trekked for days and weeks to escape the famine in Somalia only to wait for help on the outskirts of the overflowing camp.  
The IRC is aiding these exhausted refugees in a number of critical ways, including providing care in our mobile medical clinics and treating severely malnourished children in our hospital’s stabilization unit.  But the needs are still enormous.
During my visit, I learned of a group of Somali refugees who had been living in Hagadera camp since before the drought crisis and who had mobilized to help the drought survivors. They have been collecting donations of clothes, food and other necessities from fellow camp residents and distributing them to newly arrived refugees who have the greatest need.  
To see those who have so very little make themselves more vulnerable by giving their modest possessions to strangers was astonishing.  It is charity at its highest level. 
The IRC staff in Dadaab is looking at how we can better acknowledge and support the efforts of the remarkable residents of Hagadera camp.  A key part of the IRC’s work is promoting human dignity – and empowering these generous Somalis to help their fellow country women and men speaks to the heart of our values.  My hope is that the world can show the same charity and commitment to dignity exemplified by these refugees and the people of Kenya who are raising millions of dollars for drought relief.
I also found this spirit of self-sacrifice embodied in the dedicated IRC colleagues I met during my visit: In my next post I will write about the life of an aid worker in Dadaab.
Sue Dwyer is the IRC's vice president of program quality.

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