“I am hungry”
The little boy looked up at us and said the only words he knows in English “I am hungry”. He was just the first of many who told us this. We have come to Turkana to visit Maggie’s school and to film for a documentary on the famine in Turkana. We are with four Partners for Care staff and a reporter from one of the Christian radio/TV stations in Kenya. Our goals were to assess the situation “on the ground” and to attempt to identify the problem and possible solutions. We identified the key players involved in the famine relief – goverment officials, NGOs, relief organizations and church leaders. Yesterday we divided into three groups and spent the day interviewing key people who represent these groups. Sometimes being white can get us in places that Kenyans have difficulty acessing. So first thing is the team asked me to go meet with the top goverment official in Turkana – the District Comminisioner (DC). (The member of parliament was to meet us in Turkana but had to return to Nairobi. We will meet him when we return to Nairobi). He was easy to see as I was white. We were taken directly to meet him. We were told in this meeting things were not that bad on the ground and there was maize to be distributed. We left somewhat hopeful that the reports of starvation were exaggerated. While others went for more interviews I went with the group that went “to the ground.” We didn’t have to go far. Less than a 30 minute drive from Lodwar we saw the effects of the famine in a small village called Natoot. We saw children who are malnourished – the large belly, small arms and legs, sparce hair.
We saw the old people so thin that you could see their bone structure. Moms trying to nurse their babies but I wondered how they could have any milk as they were so thin themselves. They gave us the universal sign for eating with their hands to their mouth and their stomach indicating they were hungry. We asked permission to take photos and they granted us permission.
We left and went to the area chief. Kenya is governed by a system of district commissioners, district officers, chiefs and sub chiefs. The chief told us he has not been given food since November to distribute. We returned to town to visit the district officer. Here we were told as we had been told earlier in the day that distribution of relief food has been delegated to the Kenya Red Cross. We went to talk to the officials for the Red Cross.
We were told by the Kenya Red Cross that one month ago they were asked to take over the distribution of the goverment relief food for some of the Turkana people. She told us it was true that the relief food for the central district had been in the storehouses since December without distribution and in the north since September. She told us there is not enough money to distribute the food. She showed us on her computer the costs of distributing the food. 1.8 million shillings. While we know the problem is massive and needs serious intervention to even begin to solve this century old problem of the hunger in Turkana we knew God had shown us a small group of people who needed immediate help. We went and bought food and the team returned to the village to distribute the food. We parked under the same tree we were at earlier and soon they came to greet us for the second time in a day. There was a church there and the pastor had joined us earlier in the day. We asked the pastor to pray for the people and the food. We knew it was important that the pastor be the person responsible for the distribution of the food. As the team distributed the food the moms brought me their sick children. Children affected by the obvious malnutrition – sores on their mouths, listless babies, children developmently delayed, etc. There were also children with fevers. Possibly malaria. The best we could do is leave money with the pastor to help the sickest of the children with medical care. We left water for the baby with a high fever telling the mom to give the water through the night to prevent dehydration. When a child dies in Turkana the child is buried in the village. There isn’t always the collection of data about causes of death. I asked the pastor if he knew of deaths in the village. He said three last year – one a child that looked like the child we saw today with the “big tummy” – a sign of malnutrition. How many other children are buried in their villages who looked the same? We make no assumptions that we can determine the reasons for the situation in the Turkana region and certainly do not feel we are in a postion to propose a solution but in interviewing people in positions that are dealing directly with this problem we learned some of the causes of the problem. These include: 1. There is a dispute over the number of Turkanas – .4 million to .6 million and when relief food is allocated it is on the . Million people. 2. Even if all of the relief food was distributed there is not enough to feed even .4 million people. We were told the number of bags of maize sent to the area and it is very little per person. 3. There is a District Steering Committee that has developed a plan that involved the goverment offices and the NGOs and they have divided the responsibility of the food distribution with Central and South – World Vision and North Oxfam. We were told there is fighting and disagreement among all the organizations. We heard many complaints from relief organizations and goverment official about other organizations. There does not appear to be a “team” effort to solve the problem of famine in Turkana. 3. Culture certainly plays a part. We were told by many people a Turkana man will starve before he kills his goat to eat. 4. There has been limited development in the Turkana area. Lake Turkana produces enormous fish. We saw a woman carrying in a 3 feet fish on her head in a restaurant we were in. We returned later to find the fish prepared.. We all ate the fish. Because Lake Turkana is salt water the fish is very good. Many years ago an NGO built a fish factory. It sits unused and attempts to vitalize the factory has resulted in lawsuits. Meanwhile the Turkana people go hungry and Lake Turkana remains under utilized. And there isn’t even any irrigation from the small river that runs though Lodwar. There could be small “kitchen” gardens near the river with irrigation. 5. And as the priest from the Catholic diocese told us a major problem in Turkana is the sun and lack of water. It is a semi-arid area. When you visit here you wonder how anyone survives. 6. Another concern we learned about is the possibe conflict of interests in the distribution of the relief food that has been sent. We have no documented proof but we told by several people that high ranking public officials own some of the transport companies that have refused for months to move the food from storage because of demanding payment first and requesting higher rates. 7. The opportunities for education also impacts on both the immediate crisis and the continued problem of a lack of food. There are schools especially primary schools but not for every child yet. And the harsh living conditions and lack of consistent, well-balanced food has impacted on school attendance. 8. Unlike in the US there are no “sunshine laws” so meetings held by goverment officials that develop plans are not open to reporters or the public and minutes are not published. So most people we spoke with did not know what the goverment plans were for distribution of the relief food. What did the people say were possible solutions if the people of Turkana are to survive? And can it be just more than survive? First, it appeared that there needs to emerge a leader to lead all the politcians, NGOs, relief organizations and well-wishers to develop and see to the implementation of a plan. All things are possible with God. But God uses strong leaders to accomplish His objective of seeing all worship Him. The Turkana people will continue to be unreached and the enemy will be happy as people argue and point blame. It was suggested an outside party be brought in to first assess the situarion ie. how many people are there? high much food is needed?. And someone needs to monitor the distribtuion of the word so it reaches the people. Second there needs to be serious incentives put in place to encourage the Turkana people to be self-supporting. One should never do for a man that which he can do for himself. Third schools need to continue to be built and enforcement of all children in attendance. No people have become fully self-supporting or fully developed without education. If Americans want to help they could concentrate on trying to save a child or a small village. GOA has nine pastors in Turkana and Andrew with Partners for Care works from Lodwar. Later I will send the update about Maggie’s school. Here PfC through GOA is feeding 200 children two meals aday. Not only are the children being educated but they are being fed. The situation is serious and will take much prayer for Turkana people and the leaders, people, organizations and goverment officials to solve this problem.
Praying for God’s intervention for the Turkana people, Connie
Sent via Cingular Xpress Mail with Blackberry