ChildFund New Zealand Chief Executive Paul Brown visited families in Turkana, northern Kenya where drought has brought starvation and death, but has not dimmed hope.

Turkana, Kenya

By Paul Brown

It’s just under a month since I returned from drought stricken Kenya. Many people were intrigued about exactly where I visited.

Turkana, in the very north of Kenya doesn’t appear in our papers regularly. It is stunningly beautiful, harsh and sparse, and the Turkana people are striking and warm. But it’s well off the tourist trail and is not featured in travel promotions. Instead this part of the world features in our press only at times of crisis.

Which has led to me fielding some strange, naïve – almost insulting – questions: “Why are we still helping these people? It was dry here 30 years ago when Geldof and co put LiveAid together. Why do they live there?”

Cynicism is the easy option. The people living in northern Kenyan have lived there for thousands of years. And while it may not be lush New Zealand, it is home to the pastoralists of Turkana. They know how to survive the changing seasons. But weather patterns have changed dramatically.

The elders I spoke with talked of dry years, when the rains would fail, happening once a decade. Now they occur every two years. This is the driest period since 1950.

Their home and their lives have changed, and we can help.

The 3.2 million Kenyans surviving this epic food crisis consider this the worst it has ever been, the culmination of a tragic chain of events.

In the red - severe acute malnutrition

The farmers I met described how the dry weather has meant insufficient feed for livestock. Their livestock which had not died were in terrible condition – meaning these farmers could not sell them for enough money to pay for food for their family. To add insult to injury the global recession, amongst other things, has driven food prices up and farmers cannot even find casual work.

I’m no farmer, but like most kiwis I enjoy putting on my gumboots and walking over the hills with the goats at my sister-in-law’s lifestyle block. But let’s not forget, these aren’t pet goats Kenyan farmers raise – farm animals mean livelihoods and the ability to provide for your family.

Speaking with the farmers in Turkana, I could see the pain on their faces, hear the frustration in their voices as they opened up, sharing how they could no longer provide the necessities of life for their children.

Some had lost spouses, some had lost children to starvation.

Yet these hardened families, toughened through tragedy remain determined. I saw the difference the ChildFund emergency programmes were making. The ChildFund water tank had become the focal point for the community – a meeting place to share experiences and resources. Soon ChildFund will sink a borehole, and train a committee of volunteers to manage and maintain this facility for the community for now and the future.

I felt proud to see how we are working together – farmers are uniting their herds and working with ChildFund to establish new water management techniques, volunteering their time to provide labour for constructing boreholes, taps and tanks.

Feeding young children

Here I was, a world away from my home, humbled to be a New Zealander, helping another person in their hour of need. And then it struck me – we’re all in this together.

I talked with Takwo Lokuruka, a 31-year-old farmer, waiting for his sons Epem and Ekure to finish their day at a ChildFund pre-school (under a nearby tree). Takwo once had a herd of 40 cattle, 12 camels, eight donkeys and nearly 100 goats. Now he only had 17 scrawny goats left.

He told me:

“When we find water in the boreholes we will manage it and slowly build our herd. My sons will be educated and learn new ways to be better farmers. Maybe they will help your family.”

Takwo’s determination in the face of such adversity and his faith in the future is inspiring. Working together we can create a better world for each other.

We are all in this together!

To help children in Kenya please donate to ChildFund’s Horn of Africa Crisis Appeal.

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