In Dadaab, Home Away From Home

Posted by Maria Otero
February 9, 2010
Students at School in Dadaab

About the Author: María Otero serves as Under Secretary of State for Democracy and Global Affairs.

It's about 10'clock in the morning, and the sun overhead is relentless. On the northern Kenyan border, the refugee camps that make up Dadaab are a combination of orange sand and brush. These camps were built in 1990 to hold 90,000 refugees fleeing neighboring Somalia. Today, more than 266,000 refugees live here. What was once supposed to be a temporary escape is now “home” to three generations of families. And the influx of Somalis shows no sign of slowing.

Visiting the camps' schools offers a small hint of hope. Hundreds of children are crowded into cement rooms. Despite the lack of space, they sing their lessons loudly and proudly.

"I am Maria," I say.

"I am Maria!" they respond.

Less than half of the children in Dadaab have the opportunity to go to school. Classrooms and teachers are in short supply, and 95% of teachers are untrained.

After visiting the camps' schools, we meet with refugee leaders, newly elected by their neighbors. They express their frustration. I don't blame them. They are far from home, longing to return but stuck in limbo with little to fill their days. Memories of life in Somalia are a fading dream, and their community away from home suffers from severe overcrowding and imminent challenges such as access to water, firewood, and healthcare. Sanitation is inadequate, with as many as 30 persons sharing a communal latrine. That said, the excellent work of UNHCR and international NGOs like Care International is both visible and admirable throughout the communities.

Under Secretary Otero traveled to East Africa January 25-February 1 to engage with governments and civil society on an array of global issues that address human security. The East Africa trip culminated with the Under Secretary leading the U.S. delegation to the African Union Summit in Addis Ababa.Follow the Under Secretary on Twitter @usmariaotero.



New Jersey, USA
February 12, 2010

Rosemary in New Jersey writes:

Thanks, Maria, for this post. I am hoping that before too long the camps in Haiti also have schools set up for the children so that finally ALL Haitian children can go to school, not just the ones whose parents can afford tuition. A key to building a new and better Haiti is to ensure a higher literacy rate. My experience has been that the little reste avecs get a year or two of school (if any) and that is it! If we can make sure we end the reste avec tradition and get all kids into classrooms, it will do a lot toward ensuring a better future for Haiti.

Key to this, of course, is recruiting teachers from among the literate Haitians and, perhaps, from other countries.

I am glad to see that good things are happening at this Kenyan camp and hopeful that the Haitian tent cities take a turn for the better, especially for the children.

New Jersey, USA
February 12, 2010

Rosemary in New Jersey writes:

Please see my blog post:

I am sincerely a supporter of Secretary Clinton's initiatives and ideals. I LOVE her! She loves Haiti and so do I!

New Jersey, USA
February 12, 2010

Rosemary in New Jersey writes:

Thank you for this post Maria. It is heartening to see that these little children are getting a chance to attend school. I am hopeful that before too long we will see similar classrooms opening up in the tent cities of Haiti.

It is crucial, central to the effort of constructing a new Haiti that all children have access to education, not just the ones who have parents, not just the ones whose parents can afford tuition, all Haitian children.

Poor children in Haiti have long demonstrated their ability to contribute to society. Sadly, the little reste avecs who worked so hard were not compensated for their labor, not even with education. The lucky ones might have spent a year or two in school.

So I am happy to see that these little ones going to school in the camps, and I hope soon to see similar schools for children in Haitian camps. I have joined a group to work on recruiting teachers for Haiti. I hope we can make this happen.

February 24, 2010

Abdi I. A. in Kenya writes:

AbdiWishfully these 11th hour will find you in good mood.My individual operation plan is based of 11 years research.I hope some people will not brand me new names for revealing the truth!,but,anyway i have to do it for the seek of humanity.I have started work with care Kenya refugee operation in Dadaab on 17/6/1999,I was an optimistic young man who had a vission in that I should be applying my objective with justice,my activities with mercy and my responsibilities with patiency(both domestic and work).In parables that is how one's feels and sees before the start of the rain.The big challange was i have to implement my responsibilities(both domestic and work) from a crooked(wrong)vission,a vission which is a global phenomenon,that is how become 'a Turnbouy' of the first moving 'truck' that was carrying the whole worlds.I had struggle organising myself to clean the messes of the global warming,I luckly manage to survived all these climate change effect(from domestic choruses to failed constitutions and policies).It has happenned with the grace of God(s.w).I hav'nt fallen from fast moving 'truck'.It's in the 'Reveavalaion'that we will never ever be in successsfull life while in this worlds but we will also taste the effect of justice justified,plotted mercy that has turned to become merchanneries and negatively exploited patiency has been hospitalised(these are Saint persons of Jinns and Human kind).the effect is enormously devastating as we sees in our screens or as we wittness for our own selfs,these must be early warning of coming disasters,Unless we organise our self toward justice for our purpose toward mercy for our missions and toward patiency for we implement our programmes and operations.I Abdi Issa Abdi for forsee a disastrous worlds in near future!
*Let's justice be our shield and defender as Kenyans says
*Let's explore the sources of everything positively and exploite the resources positively.
* Let's research down leadership to set role model of Justice,mercy and patience in thier leadership pratice.
*Let's the invisible hunter be hunted and than Haunted to his Grave!.
and finally I will be happy,and we gonna be happy all if we adopt my comments without favour!
I have been hunting for the truth,that is why I couldn't submit myself in time,but fortunately we got the truth now to lead the worlds or vission 2030 will be true for Kenyans and the rest of Kenyans.
I wish you all the best,hopefully and God Willing in near future we will constructively build together an "Innovative" Individual operation plan rather than justified ones!

Under O.
District Of Columbia, USA
March 31, 2010

Under Secretary Maria Otero writes:

Dear Abdi and Rosemary,

Thank you very much for your comments and your shared passion for ensuring adequate living conditions for displaced people around the world. Please keep up the good work and encourage others to do the same. You can serve as beacons of hope for many who may have little left.

Warm Regards.


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