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Kenya: Red Cross counsellors provide needed help for displaced

23-01-2008 Feature

About 1,500 people remain at the police station camp for the displaced in Kakamega. Many of them own small businesses in the town and are reluctant to abandon their property. Red Cross counsellors are providing much-needed support to those who are at a loss as to where to go from here. Bernard Barrett reports.

  ©ICRC/B. Barrett    
  David Ndegwa, of the residents' committee at the Police Station IDP camp in Kakamega discusses the distribution of food with representatives of the ICRC and the KRCS.    

  ©ICRC/B. Barrett    
  A communal kitchen at the Police Station camp for IDPs in Kakamega.    

Dr Nicholas Keya, the regional chairperson for the Kenya Red Cross in Kakamega, says some of the men venture into town during the day to test the atmosphere.

" They evaluate the situation by seeing which of their former neighbours make eye contact with them, which are willing to talk to them, " says Dr Keya. " People in the camps for the displaced need counselling. Even if the level of threat to them decreases, they still remember what happened just after the election. They need to rebuild their confidence. "

David Ndegwa is one of the displaced people living in the camp and a member of the residents'committee. He explains that because of the fluctuations in the security situation, many want to leave the region but need financial assistance to travel. But others, he says, want to go back to their houses and continue their businesses.

 Just want to go home  

" We would wish to stay, we have a lot of investments, we have houses, we have businesses, not rented but owned, " he explains. " If it is comfortable, we will go back to our businesses, that is what we are trying to do. "

Jane Olago is a counsellor with the Gender Violence Recovery Centre in Nairobi, but she is working with the Kenya Red Cross as a volunteer during the present crisis to help them organize counselling services. 

At a recent meeting in Kisumu, they recruited 40 volunteer counsellors, most of them nurses, teachers or social workers. " We give them basic counselling skills, how to listen and empathize and comfort p eople. The more serious cases are referred to counselling professionals. We also instruct them to be on the lookout for unaccompanied children and to refer them to Red Cross tracing teams to find their families. "

 Lost and traumatized  

" We find that many of the displaced people are quite traumatized. Some just want financial assistance to go elsewhere and join their relatives. But others are quite lost. For example, families in inter-tribal marriages often do not know where to go. Others say they have lost everything, there is no where they can go. Some talk like they wish they were dead, they have lost hope in life. "

The Kenya Red Cross has been delivering food to the people in the camps, including maize, split peas, biscuits and cooking oil. In this camp and in others it is also distributing essential household items provided by the ICRC such as tarpaulins, blankets, mosquito nets, soap and jerry cans to carry and store water.

Joint ICRC and Kenya Red Cross teams are also visiting the camps to ensure there are adequate systems for water and proper sanitation facilities, taking corrective action when required.