I had no idea what to expect when traveling to Kenya to visit refugee camps in Dadaab. I had been on a safari to Kenya 14 years ago with my husband and son and so loved the air of the land and the romance of the sky and the vistas of animals on our planet. While I knew this trip would be of a different nature, I could not have prepared myself for the overwhelming experience I was about to have.
After our 24-hour journey from New York we arrived in Nairobi for six hours of sleep before departing for Wilson Airport to catch our flight to Dadaab. On a 19-seater UN charter flight we met others from UNHCR (the UN Refugee Agency), members of a film crew and a few doctors from Kenya who donate a few days every other month to “help” out in one of the three camps – Hagadera, Dagahaley and Ifo.
When we landed I was struck by the pervasive heat, the red sand of the dessert, and yes, the vast space that surrounds you. Africa seems endless. We arrived at our “guest quarters” at the UNHCR compound and sat down to a briefing and lunch at the dining hall.
So our journey in Dadaab had begun. The magnitude of this experience is truly hard to describe. Over the next three days we were educated about the conditions of how 250,000 people exist in space for far less. Their homes are made from twigs or in some cases mud brick with a floor of dirt. We saw the truly heroic efforts of relief workers trying to give people a better life and we saw humanity.
Humanity in all shapes and sizes, struggling to find a semblance of life. 20 percent of the population are children under the age of five. We visited hospitals, met the doctors that provide care for the tens of thousands of patients that walk through their “doors,” visited maternity wards where babies had just been born and I wondered if their whole life would be spent in Dadaab or if they would have the opportunity to resettle outside of the camp and experience life that would be easier and filled with the carefree giggle of childhood, or continue to live the difficult existence that is all about survival.
While giving out the nets I was reminded that sometimes we must remember that doing simple acts of kindness does make an enormous difference – the problems within the refugee camps are far too large for any one person to tackle, so giving that net meant that I WAS making a difference in a small but most important way.
To bear witness was a gift I will treasure. Now, to move forward seeing how we can best deliver the message that a net does save a life – isn’t that the message we take from this experience of being Jewish? To save a life is to truly save the world.