Yesterday’s “shocking” announcement from Kibaki that Kalonzo would be his new VP was a bit of a dark cloud on what was an otherwise decent day. My Tuesday started with the good news that the Association agreed to donate money to a local charity that is working on the ground with displaced people here in Nairobi. We were also lucky enough to have a guest speaker, Merry, speak on behalf of the Jamii Bora Trust and tell us what was going on in Jamhuri Park which has become a haven for internally displaced people (refugees) who have been affected by the post election violence.
The picture she painted was so vivid that I immediately asked around the table if anyone was going to the Park to volunteer and if I could tag along. Spice, a Kenyan friend of mine, said that she had been there on Saturday and would be happy to take me around the next day to see what was going on.
This morning, I spent two amazing hours at Jamhuri Park and saw firsthand what was going on there. Currently being run in conjunction with the Red Cross, the National Alliance of Churches, Map International, World Relief, and other local organizations, the grounds are currently home to over 4,000 people, over half of whom are children. After registering, the “guests” are given access to food, water, counseling, medication, and most importantly, security.
Our first stop was a building that usually housed agricultural displays but was now home to more than 50 people who slept on its cement floors. Although most people in this room had a mattress on which to sleep, not everyone was so lucky. This would also be the first of many times over the next few hours that we would hear about people not having enough food or blankets despite reports to the contrary from the organizers we spoke with.
Sleeping spaces are first come, first serve. So people who have been here longer were able to obtain covered spots to sleep. Those who have arrived more recently, and those we saw registering today, will likely have to sleep outside in the arena. I asked how people slept under the mosquito nets I saw being readied for distribution, if they were sleeping under the stars. One of the volunteers said that some people wrap themselves up in the nets but most have to do without – this despite the huge number of mosquitoes that have been in the area lately.
The next sleeping area I was taken to had families of 3 to 6 people sleeping in cinderblock areas that are probably normally used for vendors. The three-sided blocks are about 2 meters by 4 meters and plastic sheeting to form the door or fourth wall. The first “cube” we visited had a different family in it than Spice had met last week as the old family had left to live with families in a local shamba.
Families, many of whom were busy cooking meals, occupied most of these cubes. One mother explained that her kids were not being given enough food so she had to find extra food and ask the volunteers for cooking oil.
Next to the cubes was a small area where people placed their rubbish to be burned. This too, we were told, was home to several men who slept there at night.
I asked one of the organizers about the police presence in Jamhuri Park and was told that they had not had many problems and that the police made people feel safe. The previous night some men from Kibera had crossed the arena wall to bring in a man who was accused of raping children. The men, he told us, knew there were police in Jamhuri who could help them.
The police were also there to deal with what may have once been called petty theft. We saw one crippled man who was talking to several officers about how his clothes had been stolen. A few shirts might not seem like much, but when that’s all you have in the world – the loss isn’t that petty.
I realize that today’s blog is getting long so I will finish my tale tomorrow by telling you more about the food situation, why some people won’t be able to go home for a while, and why that worries many of the organizers.