Forgotten survivors of Kenya’s conflict
For twelve months, Margaret and her husband Peter, have taken into their home a family of strangers. They have shared clothes, furniture, and food with the destitute family, for no compensation, motivated only by compassion.
Forgotten in the Kenyan crisis is an invisible, and ignored, population of displaced men, women and children - like Mary and her family – one year later still taking refuge in other people’s homes.
The family they took in – Mary, her three daughters, and six grandchildren had lived in Burnt Forest, one of the areas worse hit by the Kenya post-election violence.
What forced them to flee, to this day stops them from returning. “I don't even want to remember, to see the picture of that day,” Mary’s face is wrought with pain.
“They were running in all directions, setting fire to crops and houses. They filled in the wells and toilets with soil so they couldn’t be used again, destroyed the fences around the houses, and even went so far as to flatten the graves of people’s relatives. They do not want us back.”
With the children crying and hungry, they had escaped on top of a lorry and arrived in a safe place with relief. That first night, Mary says, “We didn’t worry much about our new family. We were just happy to get somewhere to sleep.”
As the one year anniversary of the start of the violence approaches, Mary is still grateful for the kindness of her hosts though the conditions they endure are very cramped.
But tensions within the two families inevitable rise as both rations and generosity are strained.
"When we started, to be honest, we didn't really expect the situation to last so long,” Peter admits. “I've even gone to the place where she lived, to see why we were helping her, to see it personally. I found it is very hard for her to go back.”
Acknowledging these ongoing issues, in early November 2008, the Catholic bishops of Kenya released a statement calling on all Kenyans to continue to work toward peace and reconciliation.
“The food that Caritas helped pay for was helping us to help them,” adds Margaret, “but it's difficult, how can you say, 'Go somewhere else' or 'Go home’? Our Government does not understand that we can't cope with the situation for long.”
The Church, as an integral part of communities around the country - with priests, diocesan staff, and armies of parish volunteers - have not been able to ignore the displaced people living in and among them. Mary is clear, “The Government has done nothing for us, totally nothing. It is only the churches that have given to us.”
As we near the end of 2008, the political leaders have reached a peace agreement to share power, life for ordinary Kenyans is still very difficult. “We are seriously desperate,” Mary said. “We don’t have anything, but they are comfortable, because they got the votes and the power. We hope our day will come.”
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