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Kenya: helping to heal the anguish of families torn apart

08-02-2008 Feature

With a large-scale assistance operation in place for people displaced by the violence, the Kenya Red Cross and the ICRC are urgently seeking to locate and re-unite relatives who became separated in the turmoil. Report from Nakuru, in the Rift Valley.

" I was so sad, I could not eat, I thought my sons may already be dead, " says Mildred Akinyi. She had just been released from hospital when her village was attacked in mid-January. She describes how she fled with part of her family to a local church, while her two oldest sons fled in another direction. The next morning she went looking for them, without success.  

  ©ICRC /ke-e-00183    
A mother reunited with her child at Nakuru Stadium    

Close to a week later, through the work of the Kenya Red Cross, Mildred was reunited with her sons, Frederick (18) and Washington (16). " I have regained my strength, " she says. The family is staying at the Nakuru stadium, in a camp for displaced persons in the Central Rift Valley.

" The Red Cross has helped me a lot, " she says, " they found my sons, and here in the camp they are feeding my family, they have given me clothes, and arranged for shelter with a tent. "

Rosebella Akinyi, of the Kenya Red Cross, explains: " We are providing food, essential household items, and reinforcing the water and sanitation facilities. An international service organization has provided the tents, while another international NGO is operating a medical clinic in the camp. The Red Cross is offering counselling and psycho-social support as well as tracing services to try to reunite separated families. "

 One day old – and forced to flee  

Elsewhere in the stadium camp, Joshua Odhiambo is resting in a tent with his wife Mary Akoth. Their newborn daughter Willistein lies on a blanket between them. She was one day old when they were forced to flee. " The first night we spent at another camp and slept in the cold, " he says. " Our house and possessions were all burned. "

The couple has received help from the Red Cross counselling services. " Life in a camp with a newborn is very stressful, particularly for my wife, " he explains. " This is not a healthy place for a baby, it's very hot in the tent, and I can't always be here to help her the way she would like. "  But, he adds, thanks to the Red Cross, at least they have a tent, milk for his wife, and some food.

In another part of Nakuru, the Showground hosts a camp for several thousand displaced people of different ethnic origin from those at the stadium. At the Kenya Red Cross tracing tent, Jane Wangari embraces her 12-year-old daughter Catherine. The two had been separated for over a week, each in different camps, before being reunited by the Red Cross. " I was very worried and couldn't sleep, " says the mother. " Everywhere I turned, they told me to go to the Red Cross, and they have helped me a lot. "

Others at the Red Cross tracing tent in the Showground camp are still searching. Anne Njoki Mungai balances her struggling two-year-old daughter on her lap. She is looking for her son Joseph, aged 14, who was separated from her on 29 December, the day the election results were announced. " I am still hopeful I will find him, " she says.

The ICRC is working with the Kenya Red Cross, helping to train its volunteers and provide support and technical expertise for its tracing activities.

" Not knowing the whereabouts of missing family members, particularly children, can be a very traumatic experience, " says Caroline Rouvroy, the ICRC's Protection Coordinator in Nairobi. " That is why tracing is a basic Red Cross service in times of disaster or conflict anywhere in the world. "