Stories from East Africa
Those affected by the crisis tell us about their daily fight for survival
Pauline is a mother of six from Turkana in Northern Kenya. Like many others in the region, Pauline’s family has been forced to travel long distances in search of food and water, after the livestock they rely on for food died. She explains, “The drought killed all of our animals, and it will take us around five years to build up a herd again. There is no other food apart from a few wild fruits that are very hard to find, and most of the wild fruit trees are not bearing any more after years of drought.”
Desperate to find help, Pauline and her family travelled south and finally arrived at Lodwar – the capital of the Turkana district and the town where Mary’s Meals is providing food for children who are attending nurseries, at an age where they are especially vulnerable to hunger-related illness.
For most children, the food they receive from Mary’s Meals is the only nourishment they will have that day. Pauline explains, “The food they get in the nursery is all they get. They have a breakfast of porridge when they arrive and then maize and beans. Then they wait for the next day.” Relieved to have found help, Pauline is adamant that the nurseries in Lodwar have saved lives. She explains, “Until we have livestock again, we need to rely on the nursery to feed our children. The drought would have killed all of us – children and parents alike. But the food from Mary’s Meals has saved us.”
Mary, a mother from the Turkana region in Northern Kenya, has been desperately trying to find food for her children, after the animals they rely on for food perished. Mary says, “We were travelling far every day, searching for food and water for the cattle and goats – but we’ve had no rain since last year and it’s got harder and harder.
“We’ve all suffered. The children got weaker and we would give them milk from the goats and blood from the cattle to strengthen them – but then the cattle began to die and the goats wouldn’t give any milk because they were hungry too.”
Without milk or any other food, Mary’s children became dangerously malnourished. Mary says, “You can see the children have become weak and dizzy, their skin becomes rough and develops sores and their hair begins to turn brown or even yellow.”
Fearing for her children’s lives, Mary started walking southwards to look for help. She eventually arrived at the capital of the Turkana region, a town called Lodwar. It’s here that Mary’s Meals has been feeding children at several nurseries, at an age when they are especially susceptible to hunger-related ailments.
Mary says, “We started walking to look for help. We arrived here, the children joined the nursery and they have been eating two meals every day and they are getting better. Thanks to Mary’s Meals, they are happy – they get to play all day and love being with their friends. They are full of energy and they are looking strong and healthy.”
Fartune, a young mother, stands in line in a feeding camp in Mogadishu, the Somali capital, waiting to be served some likuni phala – the nutritious, maize-based porridge dish which is being provided by Mary’s Meals.
She is holding a very sickly-looking child, who she carried a staggering 165km to get to the feeding centre. The child’s name is Pinte and his head is far too big for his little body and his swollen eyes can no longer see. He is three and has been sick for one and a half months.
Fartune has never before had the chance to take Pinte to a doctor, but now that she has arrived at this camp – run by Mary’s Meals’ partners Gift of the Givers – she will be able to obtain some medical assistance. Fartune says, “I have three children at home. They are fine – apart from the malnutrition. We never have enough to eat.”
All our animals have died
Fatima is a mother with two small children, who is standing in the queue at one of the feeding centres in the Somali capital Mogadishu, where food delivered by Mary’s Meals is being served.
She explains that one of the children, Samson, is her son, but that Howa, dressed in a dusty brown shawl, is an orphan whose parents have died as a direct result of the famine.
Fatima has seven children in total and they had to leave their home in the district of Baay – the latest region to be categorised by the UN as suffering from famine – after all ten of their precious cattle, on which their entire livelihood relies, died of hunger and thirst.
They attacked us with rifles
Napatet, who was until recently a mother of seven, has arrived at a Mary’s Meals nursery in the town of Lodwar – the capital of the Turkana district – after fleeing from terror at the hands of heartless cattle thieves.
She explains, “A few weeks ago we were living behind the mountains where we were looking for pastures. One night we were attacked by cattle raiders from Sudan. They attacked our compound with rifles. My husband tried to defend us but they killed him. They also killed two of our children but I managed to save five.”
Napatet’s heartbreaking story is by no means an uncommon one across the region. Famine has been officially declared in some areas of East Africa and people are desperate to find food.
Napatet says, “There were other families affected by the cattle raiders. We had to look for help as we had nothing. We walked for ten days, sleeping outside with no food and hardly any water. Eventually, we arrived here and the children are beginning to get better now as they get food every day from Mary’s Meals. I don’t know what we would do without the help. We have lost everything.”
We were close to dying of hunger
In Turkana in Northern Kenya the people have seen their region decimated by drought and severe food shortages. As a result, most of the animals they rely on for food have died. And as for the people with livestock that continue to survive against the odds, their families have become sitting targets for violent cattle raiders intent on stealing the increasingly invaluable animals at any cost.
Erus – a father of five – has travelled many miles to bring his children to a nursery in the town of Lodwar, in Turkana, Northern Kenya. Not only is Erus worried that his children might starve to death, he is grieving the violent loss of his wife and two of his children at the hands of cattle thieves.
Erus says, “Cattle raiders came and I hid my children in the thorn bushes. When I came back from hiding the children, I discovered that the raiders had killed my wife and two sons. I tried to fight them to stop them taking the animals but there were too many of them. In the end, we lost everything.”
Amidst the intense grief, Erus is thankful to have found a nursery where Mary’s Meals is feeding starving children every day. He says, “We had to look for help. We eventually arrived here and now my children are recovering. They were close to dying of hunger.”
We’re just trying to survive
Namayena School in the Turkana district of Northern Kenya has an official roll of 89 children, although that number has recently rocketed to more than 200 as a result of parents flocking there in the hope of getting Mary’s Meals for their children, amidst the recent severe food shortages.
The children who attend this school are the children of pastoralist nomads whose lifestyle and livelihoods are being systematically destroyed by climate change. In the toughest times, they drink the blood of their animals and survive on berries.
However, this summer saw an official disaster declared as droughts killed off their animals and made the berry-bearing bushes barren. Thousands have died and many more face the real threat of starvation. Without Mary’s Meals, many of the children would face certain death.
Selena, who sits on the school’s parent committee, is a mother who has managed to have her children enrolled in Namayena School. Selena says that her home had burned down in a fire and – with no husband around – she had been struggling to support her eight children. She admits that times are hard but that the nursery is really helping her.
Selena explains, “We have no alternative. We’re just trying to survive. We believe the education will help our children. We only have some wild fruits and sometime cereals, but it’s not enough. We are happy Mary’s Meals is here as it helps our children grow and learn.”
One of Selena’s children is called Akuru. She’s a very modest and shy child, but she says that she loves school, in particular reading and writing, very much. She says the food she gets through Mary’s Meals is delicious and gives her energy and that when she gets older, she’d love to be a nurse.
When Akuru isn’t at school, she is busy fetching water from the borehole, washing kitchen utensils, gathering firewood and helping her mother with her younger siblings. Selena’s life is very hard and, in an attempt to make ends meet, she tries to earn extra income by running a type of hotel from her one-roomed mud hut.
Selena is asked why, when she struggles to get money to feed her family, she makes the time to be on the school committee. She replies, “I decided to do it after seeing what is going on in and around the school. The school is really important to this community and I’m so grateful to those who made it possible.”
There are many more mothers like Selena across Northern Kenya who are arriving, their children in tow, at schools and nurseries where Mary’s Meals is offered every day in search of life-saving nourishment. With donations to its East Africa appeal, Mary’s Meals hopes to feed as many families in the region as possible.
Thanks to Mary’s Meals, our children are becoming healthy
Mary’s Meals is endeavouring to help alleviate the ongoing crisis in East Africa and the charity’s emergency response incorporates bolstering its existing school and nursery feeding programmes in drought-stricken Northern Kenya and the delivery of more than 200 tonnes of food aid to Mogadishu, the capital of famine-hit Somalia.
Esther and Alice, two young mothers, have stories which are typical in Turkana, a northern region of Kenya. They’re nomads who have traditionally relied on livestock for their livelihoods.
However, since the drought hit, most of their animals have died. As a result, they’ve had to travel long distances – their large families in tow – in search of food that will keep them and their loved ones alive.
In some ways, Alice and Esther are the fortunate ones, however. They’ve managed to travel to and enrol their children in nurseries which run Mary’s Meals school feeding programmes.
Esther says, “Some of the children were really sick when they arrived at the nursery. But thanks to Mary’s Meals, our children are becoming healthy because they are eating every day. You can see that they are happy and they love to play and run. We depend on this completely.”
Alice is similarly grateful for the daily meals of maize, beans and rice which are provided by Mary’s Meals for her children. She says, “The children’s lives have been saved by the nursery. It’s also helped us adults, as we don’t need to take the children with us when we’re trying to find wild fruits for us to eat.”
The nurseries, primitive in terms of their infrastructure, provide a lifeline for many. Esther explains they have a wooden shelter for storage and for the classes. She says, “We are so grateful and appreciate all the support you have given us so far.”
Alice continues, “We love the nursery so much. The children are satisfied after being to the nursery. They come back home happy and ready to play and help us gather firewood and get water. Before they could only sleep, and they were dizzy and weak.”