Saturday, October 2, 2021
Gambella is a region in southeastern Ethiopia that bridges the Baro River and borders South Sudan. It is one of the most marginalized areas of Ethiopia and home to approximately 380,000 refugees from South Sudan sheltered across seven camps.
With funding from Global Affairs Canada Humanitarian Assistance, HelpAge is assisting over 52,000 older persons, people with disabilities and special needs providing nutrition, health, and protection support. HelpAge remains the single organization directly serving this demographic.
This is a high conflict region with inter-tribal violence as well as disturbances between the refugee and the host communities.
On October 1st, we visited the Jewi refugee camp for the International Day of Older Persons celebrations where we were welcomed with lively song and dance. In the next few days, we will have the opportunity to visit Nguenyyiel and Tierkidi camps where we will see what life is like and how HelpAge has helped these refugees.
The town of Gambella itself is bustling with NGO trucks, motorbikes, donkey pulled carts, little markets, churches, and 3-wheel ‘rickshaw’ like cabs. Once we enter the camps, there are just temporary shelters, maybe some bicycles, and people, like anywhere else in the world, just being people—but with tremendous insecurity and an unknown future. We were always welcomed with song and dance and we had the chance to speak to several of the beneficiaries as well as camp volunteers, including personal support workers who give in-home care to older people who cannot make it to the HelpAge Centres. Each camp had its own elected “Older People’s Association” who represent and provide a voice for the wider elder population. The interventions that I saw or was aware of during my trip were life-saving eye surgery clinics, physiotherapy—including the provision of mobility devices, the distribution of food and nutrition like much-needed milk powder, blankets, as well as safe, age and mobility-friendly spaces, and a place to let their voices be heard. Without exception, older people noted how they needed so much more, often pointing out their thin physiques, their need for more blankets and nutrition. It was an awakening experience to witness a level of poverty I could not have previously imagined, yet, a spirit of resilience, of gratefulness, a living, breathing faith, and community. I cannot sign off without also noting the remarkable work of HelpAge in Gambella. Program Coordinator, Tekalegn Fekado, and his team put themselves at personal risk every day to help the older people of Gambella live lives of security, health, and dignity. Tekalegn, Alemayehu Ayele (Gambella Field Office Driver), and Kinfe Deriba (National Program Officer), and I had a few laughs along the way - they really showed amazing care and hospitality for us.
HelpAge is a remarkable organization made of great people, exemplified there in the heart of Africa.