Quote of the week

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by Cynthia Vukets on August 26, 2009

“I’m an old woman. I can’t be sleeping in a tent every night. Do you think Canada can help us?”

- Margaret Njoki shows me around the camp for internally displaced persons in Central Kenya where she has been living for a year and a half.

More than 600,000 people were displaced from their homes during the 2007 post-election violence. Tens of thousands are still stuck in camps, either too afraid to go home or because they have nothing to go home to. Margaret’s camp was the more orderly of two we visited in central Kenya this week. Each family has a 25 x 25 foot plot for their tent. Many have planted little gardens and built fences around their plot so the camp has some semblance of organization and village life. A few people have even converted their tents to little shops or cafes. At the camp’s entrance, two or three in a row have hand painted signs saying things like “Welcome to Anne’s Hotel”. (Hotel here usually means restaurant.)

But I  try to imagine what it would be like to live for over a year in a tent. No furniture except for a mattress on the floor – often only one for an entire family. When it rains, people have to spend the whole night standing up because the water soaks through the groundsheet and the mattresses and there are no chairs to sit on. Any time you have to go to the washroom you have to trek across the camps to communal latrines. And central Kenya is cold. The old women I’m chatting with are shivering in thin skirts, bare feet and threadbare sweaters. When Margaret asks me if Canada can help, what do I say? “No, we don’t really care. Your own government doesn’t even care, so you guys are on your own. Sorry.”