Project Stories:

Hoping to return home

Refugee aid at the Horn of Africa

by Nora Parasie, 2016/08/23

Instead of relaxing and taking a rest from her teaching profession during her summer vacation, the Hamburg teacher Nora Parasie took off to what seemed like a different world: as a voluntary humedica intervention team member she went to the refugee camp Melkadida, situated approximately 6.000 km away at the Ethiopian-Somali border, to assist the local team in providing medical care for the people. In her following first report from Ethiopia she talks about what kind of adventures you have to expect when undertaking such a journey.

„Saturday night in London: „The airplane to Addis Ababa is now ready for boarding. Please stay seated till this announcement will be finished.“ These are the words, which announce my Ethiopian Airlines flight. While boarding I am asked whether I own a return ticket and then the travel starts. The new spirit of Africa is the airline´s subtitle.

African music welcomes me at my green coloured seat and I already feel attuned to my journey to Africa. My seat neighbour is on her way to her family in Nigeria. For her Addis is no more than a travel hub, also for me it is only a one-day stopover. The cool temperatures below 20 degree remind me of Germany. I find out that Addis, which is positioned at an altitude of 2.300 m, is the third-highest located capital of the world.

Passport control at the landing site

Monday morning in Addis Ababa, 6.00 a.m. Again I am at the airport, standing at the United Nations Humanitarian Air Service counter to check in my luggage in order to fly to Dollo Ado in South Ethiopia. As I am one of the total of seven passengers for this flight I receive a reusable boarding ticket. The departure is delayed for two hours and so I have enough time to get acquainted with the other six passengers while taking breakfast. They are employed by several aid organisations in the region of Dollo Ado - the area, where Kenya, Somalia and Ethiopia border.

Before entering the tiny airplane, everyone controls whether his luggage is on board, then we are ready for take off. The pilots are sitting two rows in front of me. The lift-off is a bit shaky. During the two-hour flight, the landscape gets more barren, for a long time we only see the desert. Finally I recognise camp settlements and a river. We land on a sand track. This has to be Dollo Ado, the town on the Somali border. At the end of the track I look out of the window and see five off-road vehicles of different aid organisations already waiting for their staff members. I am glad to see also an employee wearing a humedica vest.

It is hot and dusty. The passport control takes place on the sand road directly in front of the airplane. I have finally arrived in an area, which had taken in more than two hundred thousands of refugees from Somalia. Here they hope to be safe and provided for. The next three weeks I will get to know humedica´s work in der region and support the German coordinator Sandra in her duties.

Hunger and terrorist militia

Two hours on dirt roads bring us to Melkadida, home for 45.000 refugees and the biggest camp in this region. We drive in convoy with another humedica car. The Ethiopian military is very present in the Somali region, because terrorists of the Al-Shabab-Militia are still active on the Somali side.

In 2011 the people living at the border triangle of Ethiopia, Somalia and Kenya suffered from the most serious draught for the last fifty years. The consequences were an extensive famine and immense refugee influx. Many people have also left Somali because of the continuing civil war and the terrorism. Since the outbreak of this humanitarian disaster humedica is on site, thanks to the support of the Foreign Office. Midwifes, nurses, physicians, dental assistants, translators and drivers work at the health care station in Melkadida situated in the middle of the camp.

In the neighbouring camp Kobe a new health care station for pregnant women and children under five years, who are a particularly endangered group, could be opened last year. Some refugees act as so-called Community Health Workers for humedica. Their task is to inform their fellow refugees about hygiene, vaccines and nutrition. humedica training coordinator Lilly organises regular trainings to provide them with the necessary background knowledge.

„When we started our work in 2011, the people have arrived here extremely famished and weakened.“ reports the employee Frelemo. He is responsible for the pharmacy and distributes the drugs at the health care station. „At this time many people have died due to the famine disaster. It was only natural for our staff to work from dusk till dawn. Often it was a matter of life or death. In the meanwhile the situation has stabilised, but the people here still depend on outside support. It still is most uncertain, what their future brings.”

Riding on a donkey cart to the health care station

Tuesday morning, 7.50 a.m. Departure for the health care station. The 20 humedica employees, who all live on a site in front of the camp, jump in three cars. On the way more employees board the vehicles. At the health care station many patients are already waiting for us. Nurse Mohammad discusses this day´s activities with the Community Health Workers. The other employees settle in at the pharmacy, the dentist treatment area, the laboratory, the observation and treatment rooms. Meanwhile the nurse Zahara carries out the triage of the waiting patients. Triage means the classification of patients: people, who suffer from particularly severe or chronic illnesses or have travelled for a long time to get here, are treated first.

During the next hour the rooms start to fill. The employees Freo and Teddy begin to pull out teeth. The German dentist Gerhardt Petz, who once worked at the camp among other German surgeons, has taught them how to do that. Mieraf takes blood samples of a patient, Omar and Dr. Ahmed treat the emergencies first, Frelemo distributes drugs and explains how to take them. The „ambulance“ vehicle brings in a seriously ill older man. The „ambulance“ is a donkey cart, an indispensable means of transport in this region. The man is taken to the observation room. Here wait ten stretchers for patients, who have to be observed for the day.

How to treat diarrhoea correctly

Everyday life at the refugee camp has become routine in the last five years since the start. But health education continues to be crucial. Often it is just a matter of explaining to the people that they must bring their children to the health care station instead of treating them according to impairing traditions like simply cutting wounds open or putting diarrhoea down to the growth of teeth and therefore extracting them. You also have to explain the correct use of medicaments time and again. Often patients take them in doses, which are too high. Another aim is sufficient immunisation coverage for polio, meningitis and measles.

Presently the refugee camps in the Dollo Ado region continue to fill: Somali refugees, who have found shelter in Kenya and Jemen, are relocated. When I conduct a patient survey and ask, what they wish for from humedica, many of them say: „Continue like this.“ To continue, to stabilise the situation, this is the aim for tomorrow. They do not want to leave, tells me a UN employee, who is responsible for the resettlements. They still hope that one day in the future they will be able to return to their homes.

The coolest season with 33 degrees

About 5.00 p.m. the last patients are treated. The area surrounding the health care station starts to empty. Exhausted all workers get in the vehicles. Back on the site Lemlem and Mita are already preparing supper, rice with a spicy tomato sauce. Today it is breezy, so the 33 degrees are tolerable. I learn that August is the coolest month. We play a round of volleyball. I am lucky: afterwards one of the three existing showers is available.

Suddenly I hear the generator starting operation. Quickly I plug in all charging cables and use the electricity to print out the sheets of the patients´ survey, which I would like to continue tomorrow. When I am going to dinner at 7.00 pm, it is pitch-dark. The television shows a soccer game: Japan against Nigeria. Was that not broadcasted yesterday already? It is a repetition, in the 10th minute I hear that the game has ended 3:5. Nigeria has won.

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