World Refugee Day: Getting Back on the Feet

Nairobi, 20. June 2019

In the northwest of Kenya, our partner organisation AICHM (Africa Inland Church Health Ministries) has been providing health services for several years: For the local population and refugees living there. This is done in clinics as well as by health workers in the households. The aim is to provide stable, coordinated and high-quality health care. The photographer Thomas Rommel visited the project area in April 2019 and describes his impressions here.

"In the next three days we will determine the nutritional condition of 800 women and children and to get an impression. Those who are malnourished will each receive three packages of supplementary food," explains Marc Lomoru, manager of Clinic 2 in Kalobeyei. He is standing in the door to the warehouse, where the packages of supplementary food are stacked up to the ceiling. It is a delivery from UNHCR, which works closely with AICHM. Next to Mr. Lomoru stands a young man with a stack of exercise books in his hand. He opens one, calls out the name on the first page and a young woman with a baby on her arm comes running over. Another colleague hands her three silver-wrapped packages, which she puts into a fabric bag. She takes the notebook from which her name was read and sets off home. Another notebook is opened, another young mother hurries along. She also receives the three packages and disappears.

This has been going on for three hours without a break. The food packages contain a flour enriched with vitamins and minerals, which is mixed with water. It can be eaten as a porridge or added to other dishes. All mothers with children under six months and all pregnant women receive these packages once a month. Those who have been diagnosed with malnutrition receive the packages every two weeks until their bodies have recovered.

„Coordination is essential“

The distribution of supplementary food is only one of AICHM's activities, but it shows the close cooperation with other aid organisations. The hardship in Kakuma, where 150,000 refugees from eight nations are seeking help, exceeds the capabilities of individual organisations. Only through good cooperation is it possible to enable people to live a reasonably dignified life.

You can't do this without coordination. We depend on each other to provide effective assistance to the people in the refugee camps and to the local families," says Beth Mburu.

She is Medical Expert from AICHM and responsible for the technical coordination of a project carried out with Johanniter International Assistance and financed by the German Federal Foreign Office. Ms. Mburu, mid-30s, has a degree in Public Health. She has been working for AICHM for eight years. Her office is actually in Nairobi, but twice a month she makes the long trip to Kakuma to support her team. She rotates between the office, the two clinics run by AICHM and a hospital ward in Nakoyo, which is mainly dedicated to the local population. She is a welcomed guest in every office, every treatment room, and she even finds time to retreat with some of the patients who visit the clinics and inquire about their well-being.

In the physiotherapeutic treatment room, for example, she is talking with Peter Iligo, a 32-year-old refugee from South Sudan whom she has known for several months. She inquires about the recovery of his leg. Peter had a motorcycle accident in 2015 in which he broke his left thigh. At that time, he still lived with his wife and children in Juba, the capital of South Sudan, and worked at the airport. His income was modest, but it was enough to feed the family. That changed after the accident.

Fracture in the Leg, Break in the Life

Peter Iligo fled South Sudan with his family. Thanks to the health care provided by AICHM, his injury healed. ©Thomas Rommel

There were no clinics that could have fixed his fracture and so he tortured himself through the days for months in terrible pain. He lost his job and could no longer feed his family. The bone of his thigh - broken and twisted - did not stick together. In 2016, he sent his wife and children to his parents to be cared for. Only a few months later he also left Juba, because the fights were getting closer and closer. Peter and his wife finally decided to seek shelter in neighbouring Kenya. They reached Kakuma, the once small community of only 10,000 souls near the border to South Sudan.

Today, in addition to the 10,000 Kenyan citizens, 150,000 refugees live in two gigantic camps in Kakuma. Each family lives in a small 3x5 meters house. Weatherproof tarpaulins form the walls, covered by tin roofs. These houses are lined up to the horizon: a gigantic improvised refuge that has become home to people from eight nations since the 1990s. Besides South SUdan, many residents come from Ethiopia, Somalia, Burundi, or the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Being Able to Care for the own Family Again

Taking time for exchange: Beth Mburu from AICHM in conversation with Peter Iligo. ©Thomas Rommel

When Peter Iligo arrived, he heard about the clinics run by the Red Cross and AICHM. There he had his leg professionally examined for the first time in three years. His eyes shine, his voice loses its calm and emotions are stirred when he continues with a smile: "I came to an orthopaedist who referred me to Lokichogio after a short examination. There they took x-rays. So the next day I went there and came back with the pictures. The doctor said immediately after looking at them that I would have surgery," said Iligo. Almost a month later he was in the Operation Room of the mission clinic in Kakuma. The fracture was straightened and a plate was inserted.

When he was discharged after three days, he was referred to an AICHM physiotherapist. At his first appointment she gave him some crooks, which have become faithful companions. But above all it was about restoring his mobility. The years of pain have made his muscles tense, others have receded. The joints have become sluggish. This was now being worked on intensively. "In a few weeks I will only need a crook and then it will not be far until I can do without it completely." Beth Mburu says that he can then play football with his son again, whereupon Mr. Iligo bursts out laughing and denying it. "I will never play football to not break my leg again. I'd rather take care of my family now." The story of Peter Iligo is one of many that tell about the work of AICHM. They make it clear that the people have a long-term partner at their side.

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