Women Helping Women: Somalian Famine Refugees Find Relief in Neighboring Kenya

The people of Somalia are in need of so much. They need a stable government – or any government at all, really, having basically been without one for the past two decades. They need jobs, income, clothing, medical care.

But perhaps right now, more than anything, they just need a little rain.

An East Africa drought continues to plague Somalia and neighboring countries, causing a famine that’s estimated to have cost tens of thousands of Somalian residents their lives thus far. But thanks to a for-women, by-women program in northeast Kenya, some 2,700 Somalian women and their families have found a bit of relief.

Womankind Kenya, along with partners such as MADRE and Zenab for Women in Development, has provided food, water and anti-diarrheal medicine to these women and their families, in addition to counseling and medical services to women who have survived rape or robbery during the trek to Kenya.

“We counsel women who arrive traumatized from sexual violence, from being uprooted from their home communities, or from burying a child along the way,” said Hubbie Hussein al-Haji, pictured above, executive director of Womankind Kenya. “We ensure pregnant and breastfeeding women emaciated from famine receive the nutrition and health care they desperately need.”

Hussein al-Haji says the famine could be somewhat lessened if regional resources were adequately and sensibly used.

“While the worst drought in six decades has destroyed crops in the northeast, very close by in the south of Kenya, the farms are green and plentiful,” she said. “People are growing wheat, vegetables and more. But this locally-grown food is not getting to the people who need it. Meanwhile, the price of staple crops like rice, corn and wheat is shooting up. Drought means that poor people can no longer raise their own food for lack of water. If the prices go up, they can’t buy food either.”

In the meantime, women-focused partnerships will continue to help as many famine escapees as possible. MADRE recently utilized one of its partner organizations, a group of women farmers in Sudan, to deliver a crucial supplement to Womankind and the refugees it supports. Hussein al-Haji says that in addition to this help from outside organizations, creating more sustainable, locally grown food sources will be key to aiding famine victims and preventing future outbreaks.