IDP – Life in a Camp

Well I may be home in England, but my work isn’t finished, as I still have a few more things to write about from my time in Kenya, and then starts the serious business of fund raising. I was pretty down about leaving, and it felt odd when I first got back to London. But I was greeted by my family at the airport, which is always nice, and tonight I’m back to work, with a gig in Cambridgeshire so I haven’t had time to get too blue! This post is about a visit to an IDP camp.

IDP

One of the last things I did while in Nakuru, was visit the local internally displaced persons camp – otherwise known, as the IDP. As I explained in an earlier blog, written about the Nakuru landfill site community, thousands of people were forced to flee their homes after post-election violence which left thousands dead in 2007. Some of these stories are truly harrowing and staggeringly those who lost their homes consider themselves lucky not have lost their lives like so many of their friends and family.

Some of those people who found their way to Nakuru, ended up on the landfill site. The vast majority of them however, ended up on the IDP camp (with similar camps springing up all over the country). I’d heard about the camp and the plight of the residents, but had yet to visit, when only a couple of days before I was due to depart for Nairobi, my good friend Dave – a volunteer for ‘So They Can’ – said he was going down, and offered to show me around. Naturally, I jumped at the chance. These people are particularly unfortunate, as not only did they lose their homes, but the government has since done very little to improve their circumstances, and many still live in the same tents they were moved into in 2007. You can only imagine how well a tent keeps, when exposed to the combination of searing heat and regular torrential rain storms for nearly five years.

Nakuru

During that five year period, a community of over 6000 has built up on the Nakuru IDP camp, and local NGOs have got involved to help residents. Residents have also done what they can to bring life back to as normal-a-level as possible, and one of the things the younger guys have done, is to start a 7’s rugby team, with a local school teacher, Bruno, as coach. Through his exposure to the camp (he works as a horticulturalist/scientist with ‘So They Can’) and his enjoyment of rugby, Dave had been invited to see the rugby team enjoy their first match a couple of weeks before I arrived in Kenya.

He’d been impressed with their passion for the game, and apparently it took place during a brutal rain and thunder storm, yet there was never any talk of the game being stopped – this was a real opportunity for these lads. I can only imagine how a class of English children would react if they were told they had to play a game of rugby in similar conditions! As a result, Dave was keen to get involved and help, and asked me if I wanted to come and do a little fitness coaching with the team. I jumped at the chance, and we drove down together after giving a guitar performance at ‘Holding Hands’ orphanage (another ‘So They Can’ project) that same day.

The Rugby Team

When we got there, there were 10 players who were training with their two rugby balls. They were already in the middle of a few warm ups and drills, and ranged from about 25 – 30 years old, with one noticeably older player as well. I observed that they didn’t have any proper sports kit, and many were wearing the same clothes they would’ve worn while labouring that day, including old jeans for a few. Hardly ideal attire for running around in the heat. After briefly speaking to Bruno (I’d met him previously, after going to play some football at a junior school during my first week) he basically gave me free reign to do whatever I wanted with them.

They all looked pretty fit, tall, and strong so I said I’d do an abdominal workout with them, to which Bruno nodded and smiled. I wasn’t sure whether he was smiling at the effect it would have on me, or the players! He called them around and briefly addressed them in Swahili, before introducing me. Now they were up close, I could see they were all considerably taller than me, and I wouldn’t have blamed any of them for looking at me, and thinking “who is this pip-squeak?!” though at the same time I sensed no hostility, and they all listened politely as I spoke. As I was explaining to them what we were going to do, and demonstrating some of the more unusual exercises, a large crowd of local camp children started to assemble from the nearby field, and by the time we were ready to start I was surrounded by not only 10 strapping IDP rugby players, but also 20-30 young children, who all excitedly got down into a sit up position for the first exercise! I couldn’t help but smile.

Abdominal Work-Out

I had planned a 15 minute ab workout – 1 minute per exercise, no rest between, with Bruno timing each using his mobile phone. Within about 2 minutes, most of them were writhing around on the floor in agony, laughing and poking fun at each other. It was quite an enjoyable atmosphere, and although I didn’t see any evidence of it, Dave insisted afterwards that he’d got down and given it a go himself. I’m pretty sure that at 6’4”, had he done so I’d probably have had to run him to the nearest hospital afterwards, but I’ll take his word for it 😉

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So the players knew I was serious I did the whole workout with them, although having done a similar routine earlier in the day with my flatmates, I wondered about the wisdom in doing this. Thankfully I managed to complete each exercise for the full minute, though not without a little pain. Phew!

Ball Skills

After the workout, Dave did a couple of ball skill based drills, and I took part as a fellow player to make up the numbers. This was an experience in itself, as these guys were strong, and more importantly, motivated. Possibly for the first time in their lives, they belonged to something – a team, where they could prove themselves to each other, and it was clearly important to them. One tackle I received literally took me off my feet! Playing rugby with the sun setting over the stunning landscape of Lake Nakuru national park was also quite surreal. Even after nearly three weeks in Africa, I had to pinch myself to make sure I wasn’t dreaming!

The IDP Camp

As we moved into dusk, Dave and I said our goodbyes, and we walked into the IDP camp so I could take photos and get an idea of the conditions these people live in, before writing this blog. You could tell the camp was put up with government assistance, as the dwellings were arranged in neat rows, with dirt footpaths running between. It appeared organised. Dotted everywhere between the tents and sheet metal houses, were small gardens of crops – mainly maize – a real money saver for the residents, as it reduced the amount of food they needed to buy. However, the conditions themselves were poor, and children were running around everywhere.

Being a government camp, with regular charity assistance, these people will be more used to mzungus walking around, though the children still wanted to say hi as we walked past, with me taking photos. One little girl in particular who was perpetually skipping with an old rope, followed us all around the camp and kept asking me if I’d like to see her home, and meet her Mum. I asked her where the home was, and she pointed in the direction of where we were heading. That coupled with the fact she was only about 5 years old meant I felt pretty safe, so I agreed to go see her Mum! Dave had to go meet someone who we were taking home, so I went off with the girl (still skipping) and her baby brother, who was about two years old and wrapped up in an old coat.

An IDP Family Home

About 30 metres down one of the side dirt tracks, we came to a tiny shack, which looked like it had been cobbled together from all sorts of materials. Despite the fact I’d visited areas of appalling poverty such as the landfill site and the ghetto at Rhonda, I was still absolutely shocked at the conditions that this family lived in. The girl’s Mum popped her head out of the doorway as we arrived, and she looked thrilled to have a visitor. She shook my hand, and immediately offered me a cup of tea. I looked around, and the yard had a pot bubbling away in the corner, suspended over a small burning log. It was quickly getting dark, so I couldn’t see clearly, but the contents of this pot looked so distinctly unappetising, I had no idea what was in it, and knew I had to politely decline.

She then asked me if I’d like to see her home so I thanked the lady, and we entered the house. It was truly shocking – small, dark, dirty. We had a brief conversation about religion (the lady was a very strong Christian, and told me Jesus Christ was her saviour) and I then asked her if she’d like to see the photo I’d taken of her two children while walking through the camp. She eagerly agreed, and as soon as she saw the picture, she asked me if I would send her a copy of it. Of course I said yes, and later arranged to send it to Dave, who will give it to her on his next trip to the camp. I then took a photo of her and her two children stood together outside the house in her yard. They all had lovely smiles (I’ll upload pictures to my Facebook page) and it was yet another example of Kenyans, seemingly with nothing to be thankful for, and living in dire situations (with a government who are still yet to help re-house them five years after the violence). It’s a real eye opener, and cannot fail to make you appreciate what we have in our society – as well as WANT to do more for them.

A Positive Future on the IDP?

To finish this IDP-themed blog off, I was previously fortunate enough to be taken along to one of the sites where some of the Nakuru IDP residents are due to be moved within the next few months. The site is currently a dairy farm in a rural area outside of Nakuru. The owner of the farm is selling plots of his land to the government, who will in turn build accommodation, and prepare land for 30 families to live off, as farmers. When I and the ‘So They Can’ volunteers got to the site, we walked around, and took a few photos. The landscape is simply gorgeous – rolling hills, big mountains in the background and large trees everywhere. It actually reminded me a little of the Lake District in Northern England.

Dave was particularly excited about the richness of the soil as it means the families will hopefully be able to produce large yields of their crops, feed themselves well, and have quality produce to sell at the local market. A real plan for self-sustained longevity. Surely after being forced into conditions of such squalor, for so long, these wonderful people truly deserve enough luck to live in such beautiful surroundings, and be able to provide well for themselves.

Elections

The next run of elections is currently scheduled for March 2013. Some Kenyans are nervous about this, while others are hopeful that the violence which has plagued the last three elections will not happen this time around. However, as we get closer to the elections, the government are now starting to step up their efforts and promises to rehouse the thousands of people who have been trapped in IDP camps for the last five years. Naturally some people are cynical about this, and think that the government are only appearing to be active in their efforts, as a ploy to win votes. I really hope this is sorted, and most people are moved before the elections take place. It would be awful if they become forgotten by which ever government gets elected – especially if any potentially subsequent violence displaces more even people. Keep your fingers crossed, as these Kenyans deserve better…

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