Blog written by Hamza Ahmed (Trustee and Chairman of Mission Relief)
In February, Mission Relief and its newly formed team decide to organise a fundraiser to feed the poor and needy in Kenya for the Month of Ramadan. We contacted our partners in Kenya and quickly recognised that there are a number of communities living in remote areas in Tana River that had been suffering from drought and a shortage of food supply due to their livestock dying- this was due to the intense heat. Many farmers had lost 80% of their animals which had resulted in no income as well as no food. The officials in Kenya had raised alarms.
One farmer, Ismail Kushushu, stated “We had walked more than 40 kilometres to the nearest water reservoir. A few kilometres to the water point, the cows got tired from the scorching sun and started falling; we had to carry them to the water source.” Mr Kushushu had lost 15 cows and each day he watches as the health of the remaining 20 cows deteriorates.
Due to the geographic of Tana River, it is extremely difficult to approach the remote villages as there are no designated roads. This requires a lot of off-roading. Some communities in these villages are from Somalia and crossed the border during war and difficulty. They then created small villages in remote areas where schools, hospitals, water sources and towns are miles away. The result of this is that the people living in these villages have no access to education and very little job prospect. Some farmers were able to bring their livestock with them and this has become the only form of survival.
After a busy 6 weeks of preparation, my wife and I set off to Kenya, arriving in Nairobi. The first stop was Mombasa (south coast of Kenya). Here I visited a girl’s orphanage where Mission Relief’s amazing donors have chosen to sponsor. An organised fun day out to the zoo and a day of handing gifts was enough to put a smile and create amazing memories for these young girls.
Now came the long 8-and-a-half-hour drive to Tana River. We teamed up with our partners and travelled in suitable vehicles that could manage the difficult terrain. Along the way we had a short stop in the small, but hussle-bussle town of Malindi, which has one of the most beautiful scenic coast lines. Eventually, we arrived at Garsen where we stayed the night and prepared for our distribution for the upcoming days.
The next morning, we prepared all the food packs and loaded up the vehicles. We travelled to a village called Funjia. As we entered, we passed mud huts and were welcomed by the chief of the village. It was astonishing how many women there were in comparison to men. No one spoke a word of English and everyone seemed a little shy. We were told that they were not used to seeing foreigners so the stares and lack of communication was understandable. As our translator explained the reason for our arrival, the chief of the village began a prayer before the distribution began. With the support of the locals, we managed to unload the food from the vehicles, as the young children with no shoes and ripped clothing watched on. As each family came forward to collect their food pack, we began to see their smiles. Mothers with their babies in one hand and a food pack in another smiled with relief, a change from the constant look of worry of where their child’s next meal will come from. Our work here was done. A quick goodbye as we moved on to the next village, stopping off at any masjid we saw to deliver dates for Ramadan.
Baomo was the name of the place we arrived next. A larger community in comparison to Funjia. Here we met Abdullah, the community leader, who was an excellent communicator and organiser. He had received education when he was younger and is one of the very few who has managed to secure work outside the village. He has been asking for help for his community for a very long time but again, due to the locality found it difficult to secure relief. He welcomed us into his humble home where both his and his brother’s family resided. 12 family members in a small 2 room mud hut with the kitchen area outside the entrance. While looking around I made an astonishing discovery, noticing goats in an elevated cage with wooden steps to enter and exit. When asked the reason for this, Abdullah explained, ‘due to the jungle surrounding us, there are lions, hyenas and leopards that can eat our goats if they are left in a cage on the ground or left to roam free. For their own protection we place them in an elevated cage, protecting them from the wild animals who would eat them.’ At this moment I understood the dangers and risks the people of Baomo face on a day-to-day basis.
The next day we were travelling to our final village in Tana River called Asa. This village was the most remote from the 3 villages so we allowed ourselves a full day. There is a single track that leads to Asa and the track is cut in between a jungle. The track itself is well-known for a number of reasons: (1) If it rains then it is impossible to pass due to flooding and no drainage. (2) Poachers who hunt elephants for Ivory (which is illegal in Kenya) frequently use this track. (3) A pride of lions live near this track and have been spotted on and around the area of this track. It was time to say our prayers and set off. After an hour on the bumpiest track I have travelled on, we had arrived. The people here did not speak the native language of Kenya which is Swahili, so our translator had arranged for another translator to help us communicate with them. It was strange to watch as a spectator and I was afraid to speak to create further complications. This village was literally in the middle of nowhere. No trees, very few mud huts… just vast empty space.
Within a few minutes of arriving a storm came our way. The speed of the wind picked up, blowing the dust into our eyes while dark grey clouds loomed over us. Knowing that the track back was impassable if it rained, we hurried our distribution and set off to drive back. The rain started to pour down and floods started to appear. Everyone was praying for our safe arrival but unfortunately half way through our journey back, our vehicle got stuck in a large mud puddle. We tried to reverse but to no avail. This required manual help, so myself and a local ranger, Rashid, took off our shoes and socks and began pushing our vehicle. With water almost reaching our knees and the constant thought of a lion or any other wild animal being nearby, I pushed like I had never pushed before. Thankfully, after a lot of effort, we managed to release the vehicle and get back safely.
Our work in Tana River was complete. After a day’s rest in Malindi we travelled back to Nairobi where we had arranged for food packs to be distributed in the largest slum in Africa- the Kibera Slums. But before this we stopped off at Riruta slums, another slum located in Nairobi. We made arrangements beforehand with the local Imam to notify the poorest families in the area that we were bringing food packs. As we arrived there was a line of people waiting, so we began distributing. However, we couldn’t help but notice that a crowd was gathering; people who had not been notified also wanted a food pack. Unfortunately, we were unable to feed the thousands of families living here and to avoid any problems we made our distribution swift and asked the families who received a food pack to return home immediately.
Our last stop on our final day was at the Kibera Slums, the largest slum in Africa. A number of documentaries have been made on the Kibera slums so I was fortunate enough to do a little research before arriving. However, once we arrived, I realised that no matter how much preparation I did I would have never thought of the slums to be this way. Tin hut after tin hut with people cramped up in such little space. It was extremely busy with a constant smell of waste and litter thrown everywhere. The main street was full of vendors selling vegetables or cooked food. Groups of young boys on almost every corner. It was difficult to understand how there were so many people cramped in such a small place. We contacted a masjid beforehand to allow us permission to distribute in the masjid grounds as this would be safer than distributing food packs in the middle of an area with hundreds of people passing by. We were able to distribute to the poorest families living within the slums. As we were leaving, I remember telling myself never to forget what I had witnessed in Kibera slums and to remind myself every day to be grateful for everything I have.
After a tiring trip, we were able to distribute food packs to over 1000 families, all thanks to your generous donations. I’d urge anyone who wants to make their donation change people’s lives to consider donating food to the areas of Tana River and the slums in Nairobi. Mission Relief have pledged to support these communities for the foreseeable future and plan to visit these areas again in December 2022 In Sha Allah.