By Nathan Johnson
11/21/2017 Washington D.C. (International Christian Concern) – Martha is a 6-week-old baby who has lived her entire life inside the AIC Witu internally displaced persons (IDP) camp in Kenya. For the entirety of her young life, she has slept in a tent without a mattress, coat, or mosquito net. She is but one of the many infants who have been born in the past four months to displaced parents fleeing the violence and persecution of al-Shabaab.
Pendo, Martha’s mother, told International Christian Concern (ICC) that Martha’s delivery and early life have been strenuous because of the camp’s deadly health risks to both infants and the older population. “I am very saddened by the fact that we were displaced from our farms due to the terror threat from [al-Shabaab]. This is the worst experience I have ever witnessed in my life,” cried Pendo as she shared her story with ICC.
She sat outside of their tent, holding Martha. The desperation and tragedy of her displacement mars her young face. “We are innocent people who depend on farming and the four months we have stayed in this camp have been a traumatizing period. We do not get enough food. I came here when I was seven months pregnant and now I am holding my baby. I am worried. I don’t know how I will feed her together with my other four children,” continued Pendo.
In July 2017, a church group opened three camps in Witu and Katsaka Kairo when 2,000 families fled from the Christian farming villages of Jima, Pandanguo, Maleli and Poromoko in eastern Kenya. They escaped an attack in which al-Shabaab executed a total of 11 Christian men, seven in Jima and four in Maleli. Now, the survivors live in overcrowded camps that lack food, water, and sanitation which leads to high risks of disease.
Ngina, a Red Cross worker who is in charge of food distribution in the camp told ICC, “Baby Martha is just alive because of the mercies of God. The surroundings are not favorable at all and we have had cases of cholera outbreak, diarrhea and bed bugs, but she is keeping strong. This place is full of mosquitoes due to the stagnant water from the rains. There isn’t enough food and medicine for the people living in the camps. This is a sad state.”
Katana Sirya is among those who were relocated from Maleli village and he told ICC that the pain of losing a son and seeking shelter in a camp has taught him the meaning of suffering as a Christian. “My son had gone to the village to check whether he could get some cereals for us to eat at the camp when al-Shabaab attacked him. We are yet to recover from the aftermath of the incident and the agony of this terror has left my family worn out. We live in a small tent that gets flooded whenever it rains and our small baby gets really cold,” reiterated Katana.
Eunice Haluwa, a refugee in the camp who escaped from Jima village after al-Shabaab killed her husband and burned her house, cried out in frustration and desperation, saying, “If we worship the living God and the Muslims think we are lost, then let the justice of God prevail and one day we shall be vindicated.”
During ICC’s trip to the camps, the government asked the IDPs to return to their villages because security had been enhanced. However, many Christians are reluctant because during the previous attacks the police were unable to respond in time even after an alarm was raised.
The Katsaka Kairo camp is filled with Christians who have lost everything and are trying to find some semblance of a peaceful existence while healing from the atrocities they have experienced. The faith of four families that lost their kin in Maleli village is being tested as they can no longer support themselves through farming, but now rely on others for food, clothing, and medical care.
Despite the difficult circumstances, however, many of the refugees have hope, such as Katana, who is hopeful that this is a passing cloud of trials. He concluded, “We have kept the faith and we are quite certain that soon we shall find secure places to start our lives once again. The Lord shall provide.”