A former Red Deerian and freelance journalist who was held captive in Somalia in 2008 for over 15 months has returned to the country to help those who have been affected by the worst humanitarian crisis in the world – the famine in the Horn of Africa.
Amanda Lindhout has experienced first hand the desperate need of people in that famine stricken nation. She returned to Africa last month with the organization she founded, The Global Enrichment Foundation to visit the Dadaab Refugee Camp which is located in Kenya. It is the largest refugee camp in the world and was built 20 years ago to house 90,000 Somali refugees. It is now home to more than 400,000 people.
Lindhout made the trip after learning there are nearly 200,000 youth and school aged children in the camp and less than one-third of them are in school. After spending a few sleepless nights thinking about the desperate need in the camp, she decided she would build a school there and raise the $60 million that is needed to construct the educational centre and train teachers.
“Nothing could prepare me for the next eights days and what I would witness in the camp,” said Lindhout, who spoke at CrossRoads Church on Sunday. “A food crisis was sweeping the region. And in the weeks before my arrival refugees began pouring across the boarder and into the camp. About 1,300 to 2,000 people were arriving there daily from Somalia.”
Days after her arrival, the United Nations declared a famine in Somalia. In the last two months over 100,000 Somalis have died from starvation.
“The worst drought in 60 years has produced one of the most devastating famines our planet has ever seen,” said Lindhout. “The famine is affecting 12 million people in the Horn of Africa in Kenya, Ethiopia, Djibouti and Somalia which is the epicenter of this crisis.
“I have a responsibility to help these people. I have seen the face of hunger. Food is needed inside of Somalia.”
Lindhout’s focus the initial week she arrived was the educational component that she had made the trip for, but it quickly changed to the famine crisis after that.
“The signs of famine were all around me,” she said. “Ninety-five per cent of the people coming from Somalia every day were arriving on foot. Some of them had been walking for up to six weeks through the desert to get to that camp.
“When you look around at the misery of the camp you cannot imagine this is the final destination for these refugees. You want to believe that there must be somewhere else they will go, but most of those who arrive there will never leave. Coming from Somalia that is the better place because even in the midst of the squalor, the refugees have access to food rations, are given a tent and have access to medical care – things that are not available at all in Somalia.”
Lindhout visited the ‘receiving centre’ at the refugee camp.
“Thousands of the new refugees are corralled into pens surrounded by chicken wire while they wait to be registered,” she said. “What I saw there that day will be imprinted on my mind and heart until the day that I die. I was staring true starvation in the face – in the faces of thousands of mostly women and children.
“I walked over the bodies of hundreds of wasted children so malnourished they didn’t have the energy to get up and move.”
Lindhout has met many refugees including one woman who had four children with her and they walked 28 days to get to the Dadaab Refugee Camp.
“She told me that two of her children had died along the way – one from hunger and the other was eaten by a hyena. She held onto my hands and she begged me to help. She and her children hadn’t eaten for two days.”
On what was supposed to be her last day there, Lindhout saw a mother standing outside a clinic holding a tiny baby wrapped in a blanket.
“She was very distressed when she saw us coming over and she ran to us and held the baby out. The baby had just died. It looked like a skeleton. It had starved to death. The mother was crying but she had no tears because there wasn’t enough liquid left in her body to produce them.”
After hearing stories over and over of mothers having to leave their children behind or choosing to take only some of them to the camp because they were too weak to travel, Lindhout decided she needed to get food into Somalia.
“My organization identified a town in Somalia where food distribution could be safely done. It is also a town that is a key resting point for refugees on their way to the camp in Kenya.”
In 10 days she organized the Convoy For Hope and the first food distribution truck crossed the boarder into Somalia with Lindhout and a small team from Nairobi. For the first time since she was freed from captivity, Lindhout set foot in Somalia on Aug. 4.
Food baskets were handed out to more than 14,000 people.
“I found myself in the place that I had lost my freedom for 15 and a half months was also the place that I discovered my life’s purpose. My life’s purpose to make Somalia a better place.”
Lindhout is planning a second Convoy For Hope. So far The Global Enrichment Foundation has raised about $250,000 for the convoy which is set to leave Aug. 30.
For more information or to donate, visit www.globalenrichmentfoundation.com.
“It is possible in our lifetime to end the very worst forms of poverty. Every single study that has ever been conducted says the exact same thing – we have more than enough in the world for everyone. We have enough food, enough resources for education. The question than becomes do we care about it enough to do something about it? For my part I’ve made my choice.”