Visiting Dadaab Refugee camp in Kenya
By Quincy Farrow
August 14, 2011. This was my first trip to Africa, in fact I could count the times that I had been out of America on one hand. Sitting in a tiny plane going high above the rugged terrain and mountains, I wondered what it would be like to be physically there in Dadaab refugee camp, instead of reading about it in the newspaper. The various individuals on the plane sat chatting for most of the plane ride, and the time passes quickly.
We were greeted warmly by Unicef workers in the camp. As far as the eye could see the ground was covered in thick, red sand. The air was heavy with dust and as the wind died down and the dust began to settle, miles of tattered, white tents were revealed to me. These tents are the homes to almost 400,000 refugees, mostly from the neighboring country of Somalia. Imagine taking all of your belongings, separating what you need from what you want, then, further splitting up your possessions into what you are going to be able to carry on your back as you walk, sometimes as long as 30 days. With barely, if any, food or water, these were the people “lucky” enough to make it to the camp.
Later that day we reached a school. Despite the deplorable conditions that the people were living in, they had an insatiable appetite for knowledge. The children sat heads bowed, staring intently at dusty, dirty books, practicing their English. I sat down and talked to some of them, they were thrilled at a chance to speak English with a native speaker. When I wrote some sentences that they could practice in their tiny notebooks it was as if they had just won the lottery. They were so excited to drink it all in. All they wanted to do was learn.
A theme I heard repeated over and over again was education. When I asked mothers and fathers about their journeys most, if not all, would tell horrific stories of loss and unrelenting hardship. When I asked what gave them the strength and motivation to keep walking, unfailingly they would say they needed to provide either themselves or their children with food, but also with education. These are resilient people, with a strong desire for their children to survive and to learn. They need more schools, more books and more teachers. Education is one of the strongest pleas emitting from this region.
Less than 24 hours later I am sitting in the same rickety plane, with the same people heading back to the large city of Nairobi. But something has drastically changed, instead of the chatter from the previous ride, there’s a deep silence. Everyone is digesting what they have just witnessed, and with knowledge comes responsibility. It is now my responsibility to share with everyone I know, everything I have seen. Will you?
You can talk to Quincy Farrow and ask her about the experiences that she made in Dadaab this Tuesday at 4pm (EST) via the Voices of Youth Twitter account @voicesofyouth and using the hashtag #VOYlive.