Saturday, May 21, 2011

Camps for refugees in Liberia

It's a bit hard to reconcile that it was only just over a week ago that I got in a car for 5.5 hours to a place called Ganta. The roads were bitumen, but potholed like nothing else; it was easier to drive on the dirt shoulder than the actual road. Ganta is the "Kiss" point for travel to Zwedru - the point where a car from Zwedru meets the car from Monrovia and swaps passengers. While we were waiting for the other car to show up, I spotted a guy pushing this down the road:

Nobody ever says beef, it's always "cow meat". The next four hours were even rougher, as the road was mostly dirt. Granted, the Chinese peacekeepers have compacted what must have been 50-70km of it, so the final stretch into Zwedru wasn't so painful...hitting my head twice on the ceiling kind of hurt! We checked into the only "hotel" in town - a pitiful place, of which the name escapes me, which was drowning in mosquitos and not so much in water - I had to use the hand pump to fill up my bucket with water for my bucket shower, which was actually a bit of a novelty as I'd never used a hand pump before! I have the upmost respect for my colleagues who have already been there for 3 months...particularly when I spotted this enormous Rhinoceros beetle!

The next day I set off with the Emergency Food Security and Livelihoods coordinator, and one of his team members to go and visit two of the communities currently hosting refugees from Ivory Coast. A distribution of rice, seeds and tools was going to commence later in the week so they wanted to make sure everyone was clear about the process. After driving for about 1.5 hours, the first village wasn't too far off the main road.

Lots of representatives from the community gathered around to hear our Liberian colleague explain the process and answer their questions. The dialect he was speaking was even more impossible to understand than Liberian English and it took all my concentration to try to keep up.

The next village was a bit of a hike. Literally. After driving down a very narrow dirt road for a good twenty minutes, we discovered the bridge was out.

So out we got and crossed the makeshift pedestrian bridge.

We followed this goat for a few minutes, until it got a bit too skittish and darted off into the bushes. It was probably only a 15 minute walk to the village, and I was happy to stretch my legs. Again, we met with the community, who had designated 5 representatives. They were all young farmers and they will receive some training on agricultural practices to improve their harvest, which they will then pass on to their community. It was quite something to hear about the numbers of refugees they'd taken into their homes, one woman had 29 refugees in her home, but she did admit that she had a large house!

The next day I went with the Program Coordinator to visit the Dougee and Solo Town camps. At this stage, many refugees are still living with host families, and deciding whether or not they want to move into the camps. In Dougee, there are about 1000 refugees.

We wandered around, talking to various people we came across, including a man who'd become a sanitation volunteer. He spreads messages about good hygiene practices, and also rounds up the kids for their special sessions. These kids started their session with a song - in French, so the only words I recognised were "Cote d'Ivoire", but they were having fun clapping along. Our hygiene promoter then used a range of picture cards to teach them about hygiene, including how to use latrines and not defecate in the open.

And these guys were busy at work constructing more frames for latrines.

You can't see it, but this lady had a tiny baby strapped to her back, only three weeks old. He'd been born in the forest as they'd fled to the border. The mother was doing quite well selling some small vegetables, but of course was finding it very difficult to manage with such a young baby.

We drove back down the road to Solo Town camp, which has about 1,200 people at the moment and is likely to become a permanent camp.

The noise of chainsaws followed us wherever we walked, as more and more land is cleared to accommodate more tents.

This is a latrine pit under construction - the locations of which are carefully selected to be a certain distance from the tents, but not too far away that it's dangerous for people to use at night. In other places, latrine and garbage pits have had to be decommissioned as the number of tents grew and became too close to the pits.

I could hear a bit of commotion further into the tree line, and there was a little body of water that children and women were swimming and washing in. Young men were also shoveling up the sand to transport back to this well construction site, to make the bricks.

It was hot, it was dusty and I was covered in red dirt by the time we got home - red dirt that I couldn't seem to get off me for about 2 days. It was a great experience to see some of the sites and communities that we're working in, and to have a clearer picture in my mind as to what the challenges are - not just for the work, but for all the families that will be calling these places home for the next weeks, months and possibly years.

No comments:

Post a Comment