Salambo discovering Ethiopia
Ethiopia is currently having to deal with a huge number of refugees, estimated at around 650,000 people coming across the border from Somalia, Eritrea and of course South Sudan. With the current ethnic conflict going on in South Sudan, as many as one thousand refugees are fleeing every day, seeking refuge in the Gambella region in Western Ethiopia, so it is a daily reality and a harsh one for a country with an open-door policy towards refugees coming from neighbouring countries. Most of the South Sudanese refugees, the largest of all refugees’ groups, are helpless mothers and children who arrive there sick and starving after walking for days. The men tend to stay behind to fight the war or try to protect their assets back home. So the camps have become temporary cities where kids go to school, mothers are trying to cook for their family or trade and exchange the few possessions they still have.
In the course of my work in Addis, I met Manyang, a young Sudanese man in his 20s, who has come back to Ethiopia to work in the camp in Gambella where he spent a great part of his early life. Manyang is one of the Lost Boys of Sudan, a group of over 20,000 boys who were displaced or orphaned during the second Sudanese civil war from 1983 to 2005. After spending 13 years in a refugee camp in Ethiopia, he was able to emigrate to the US where he finished school and graduated from college.
He now wants to help his fellow refugees and has formed a non-governmental organisation for that purpose: Humanity Helping Sudan Project. His objective is to teach refugees about livelihood and life after the camp. “When you are in the camp, you have no hope of a future,” he told me. “You don’t know where your food and education are coming from, you don’t have any plans, you don’t know about your future, you are just stuck there.” In his view, the main difficulty refugees are struggling with is livelihood. They have to learn again to grow their own food and be as self-sufficient as possible given the circumstances. Through his organisation, he wants to educate them on farming techniques as well as land right issues to (in his own words) “address the massive shortage of food in the region”. “I know the people, I speak the language, I know what can be done given the circumstances,” he said. “I want to train people in the camp to take their livelihood outside of the camp.” As a matter of fact, he still knows some of the people there.
Currently, the camps are supported by a number of UN organisations which have built shelters, washing facilities and toilets, and daily provide food, clean water, vaccins, medical services as well as schools for the many displaced children. I haven’t personally visited any of the camps, but I understand that with the arrival of between 500 and 1000 refugees everyday, the camps are full and the many organisations working there are struggling to accomodate them. Also, with the recent flooding because of the rainy season, some of the camps’ facilities have deteriorated, and that’s not all, the situation is going to worsen with the number of refugees in Gambella alone expected to double to 250,000 by the end of this calendar year.