"I walked one month to reach Addis (Ababa, the Ethiopian capital), my legs were swollen and I was too weak to speak when I finally arrived," says Idil, a 59-year-old Somali woman. "I had to leave my mother behind on the way, she was too old, she didn't make it and I had to save my own life. Now I worry about her," she adds.
In Nairobi, many new arrivals face discrimination by their own community, who hold them responsible for the present crisis in Somalia. In the north, the roads to the refugee camps are lined with dead animals, empty villages, people dying of starvation and graves. Those who reach the camps are dehydrated and malnourished; they receive their first nutritious meal in weeks. The majority of the refugees arriving in dusty and hot southeastern Ethiopia are children who, for most of the day, have nothing to do.
By Fr. Frido Pflueger, S.J.
Regional Director, Jesuit Refugee Service Eastern Africa
I was deeply touched by the resilience of the Somali refugees when visiting the refugee camps of Dollo Ado in southeast Ethiopia a couple of weeks ago. Despite the hunger, the pain and the trauma they have experienced, they do not give up.
Seeing the graves along the road to the reception centre, the emaciated people and the thousands of children sitting in the dusty, windy and hot desert was one of the worst things I had ever seen in my life and it made me sad. And still, many of them, particularly the children, greeted me friendly and smiled at me.
It made me realise that, without having faith, this situation becomes easily unbearable. And I realised — and this seems very important to me — that all those we met are believers, who count on their faith and draw strength from their faith.
I traveled there just at the onset of Ramadan, the fasting month in Muslim tradition. And to my surprise, most of the refugees in the camps who had fled starvation in Somalia and were still weak, were fasting — because it is their religious tradition, it means a lot to them and it gives them strength.
It might sound strange, but I think that the faith of the Somali refugees helps them to handle this situation without giving up. Their faith gives them strength and resilience because faith always has to do with hope and confidence.
To see such deep faith raises the question in me whether we, in our secularised environment, would be able to face such a situation with the same resilience. What would be our source of resilience? Reflecting about this question, the Muslim refugees become our teachers.
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