|From Africa 2007|
It's an interesting position to be in professionally. I have come to the conclusion that the IRC is simply the best non-profit that you've never heard of. It's the marketing team's job to change that. Part of how we are going to accomplish this is by getting really good at telling stories and really showing people what we do. It's pretty incredible. Seeing it first hand has blown my brain wide open.
The list of services that the IRC provides at Kakuma refugee camp alone is overwhelming and impossible to completely describe. On top of the very basic camp infrastructure, we provide layers and layers of services that are not only impressive, but thorough, complete and completely surprising.
Even beyond our programs though are the people. I can't do justice to the quality of staffers that I met at Kakuma. What I can say is that they are beyond talented and dedicated. They are heroes in the purest sense of the word. Working is a desolate place like Kakuma and dedicating their lives to come to the aid of those in need is stunning. It's remarkable and wonderful. I'm humbled to be able to call myself a colleague.
Today started with a visit to the sanitation area where we saw how toilets are constructed. Malaria is the #1 cause of death in the camp and the sanitation department is also responsible for spraying huts and areas with bug spray that kills mosquitoes. In talking to the staff, we learned that IRC also does basic meat inspection and checks water sanitation - things I personally simply take for granted back home.
Our next stop was to visit a group of women being educated on caring for their babies. We spent a bit of time asking questions of the staff and learning that their programs are quite comprehensive and designed to help families raise healthy babies. I was reminded of the time I spent at the March of Dimes, and how hard it was for us to educate women - the fact that the IRC provides this level of care and education really threw me for a loop. Its one thing to read about these programs on paper but it's an entirely different experience to see it live and to watch as IRC staffers educate women.
From there, we visited our disabled kid’s physical therapy program where we were presented with a t-shirt and Kellie presented the women with certificates for completing the course. What was most interesting was that the IRC team was encouraging feedback on their course. The women, all mothers of seriously disabled children (mostly cerebral palsy) were quite vocal in providing feedback. The IRC team was writing comments on a white board and took each woman's concerns very seriously.
The t-shirt we were given said "Love has no substitute, love your disabled child" on the back. On the front was an IRC logo (yay for great branding!).
Speaking of branding, I think I should take some lessons from the Kakuma staff. Not only do they wear IRC shirts every day, they take pride in them. There is an unending desire for more IRC branded "stuff." I gave out a bunch of IRC lanyards and some lapel pins. I wish I had brought more.
As we drove back to IRC offices, we passed through a refugee marketplace. Apparently, there are 3 or 4 of these markets (named for different cities - Mogadishu, Hong Kong, Nairobi etc). Proving that the human spirit really can shine anywhere, you can find just about anything in these markets. I saw signs for CDs and MP3's, cell phones, computers and computer training and more. Merchandise ranged from Nike sneakers to Man U jerseys. INCREDIBLE! I'm not entirely sure how the economy runs, but there certainly is a functioning system within the camp.
What else can I say about Kakuma? It's worth noting, even though I'm pushing my writing skills to try to communicate this properly that there is an overwhelming sense of hope within the camp. Unless 60,000 refugees and staff were faking it for David and my visit, these are people who have no real home. They are not allowed to own land and cannot go back home, yet they persevere. They better themselves by taking courses, raising their families and figuring out ways to simply survive. I didn't expect to see so much hope. I expected to see poverty, desolation and despair. I think though, that the IRC and other NGO programs bring real, palpable hope to the refugees. Hope for their futures. It gives me hope and restores my faith in human beings.
My wish is that every IRC staffer in New York could experience just a few hours of Kakuma. I hope some of the pics (and eventually video will help in some small way).
And now... my brain is fried, so good night!
PS - check out the updated photos in the gallery - in particular the horribly, disgusting and compelling pic of the Camel head. Trust me, it's gross.