by Sr. Prisca Ovat MMM Nigeria/Kenya 27.04.2023
What might your description of a refugee camp look like? A place with little or no food, electricity, and water? For many years I have heard of the Kakuma refugee camp here in Kenya and my imagination has often described it as the above. And for this reason, when we travelled there, we had a sack full of clothes, shoes, and bags for the people in the camp. How wrong we were.
Recall the previously shared experience of the Turkana people who live all around the camp. They are nomads, herding goats and living simple lives. In the refugee camp, it is the very opposite. They are worlds apart. The camp in question accommodates over 300,000 people who migrated into Kenya. They live a rather luxurious lifestyle compared with the local Turkana people. The camp is supported by international funding agencies and thus their lifestyle is higher than would be expected. We were told, “They decide what they eat, and it is provided”. The first shock which greeted me was at the sight of supermarkets, smartphones, shops, and well-equipped hospitals and clinics.
The presence of these services only goes to say how much money is in circulation there, and I was right in my assumptions. “One billion Kenyan shillings goes into circulation on a daily basis.” Oh, the poor people of Turkana! It was unbelievable to see the quantity of water wasting away through broken pipes in the camp while the “landowners”, the Turkana people, waited for used and discarded bottles of water to momentarily quench their thirst. Great injustice.
Earlier at Mass, those who returned home from Nairobi for the festive season were described as “those returning from Kenya”. For a moment I was confused about whether or not we were in a different country. Without an explanation, I thought that these people may have been marginalized for so long that they no longer see themselves as part of the rest, and my camp experience confirmed it all, as it was later elaborated upon. Leaving the camp, I asked very fundamental questions: “Who is piling up their wealth while the refugees sit in the camp? Who are those building mansions just by having these people here, giving them the impression that they are special when in fact they are sucking up their wealth and stifling their future”? And if so much money flows around, will these people not rather benefit from rehabilitation to their various communities?”
Even though life for the Turkana people is better now than then, they still live in an impoverished condition. And so, for all who read this blog, if your good heart ever calls you to a great act of charity, may it be for the Turkana people. Give them water and liberate a nation from starvation, violence, and death. Only imagine how much they can achieve with water.