Ethiopia conflict: “I lost my children, wealth, my pride and dignity”
In Ethiopia, an armed conflict has forced nearly a million people to flee their homes.
Most of them left with literally nothing more than the clothes they were wearing.
Can you imagine what that really means?
Here, in their own words, people who have fled to temporary camps and shelters in Gedeo (southern Ethiopia) describe the terror, the trauma, and the desperate conditions that they now find themselves living in.
“We all sleep on the cold floor”
“My name is Almaz Getachew [pictured above]. I am 27 years old. I have six children. We fled here to Gedeb [a woreda or district in Gedeo region] after our house and belongings were looted and burnt down.
I gave birth to my youngest child here, in this shelter.
“In our village we had a farm and coffee plantation. Our children used to go to school. Now there is no school for them to go to.
We are 44 people living in this small classroom. We sleep here every night.
“In our hometown my husband and I produced our own food which was enough to feed our families but now we might not even be able to eat once a day. I am breast-feeding, but I don’t get any special food for my baby. All we get is corn and wheat from government and aid agencies, nothing else.
“The most difficult thing for me is that we don’t have any food or clothes. We don’t have anything to sleep on; we all sleep on the cold floor. We don’t have cooking materials. It’s very difficult to cook proper food.
I just hope for one day to return to our homes and start living as before.
“Most days we sleep without eating at all”
Alato, aged 50, fled with four of his children.
“I could only take four of my children. I am worried about my wife and five children who stayed behind with a relative, whose house was not burnt.
“I lost everything; all my livestock, my crops and the house have been destroyed because of the conflict. It is all gone now.
Our life now is very difficult. This is not a situation human beings are supposed to live in. We are here just to survive.
“We sleep on the floor. We do not have anything, hardly any clothing or blankets. We only have what we were wearing when we fled.
“We are receiving some food from government and aid agencies, but it is not enough. Most days we sleep without eating a single meal. I am worried about my children’s health.
The situation is very sad, this is not a place to live in. If safety improved and peace restored at home, I want to return and reunite with my family.
“I lost my children, wealth, my pride and dignity”
Alemu, 53, and his wife fled with five of their 12 children.
“They beat me, they beat my wife, and our 12 children. They stole our money, and other belongings we had with us.
“During this incident I was separated from seven of my children. The remaining five, my wife and I continued our journey leaving the rest behind.
I don’t have any information on how they are doing. I don’t even know if they are alive or not. All I know is that they have been left behind.
“We lived a stable life, but we came here empty handed. We had beds, mattresses, and warm blankets. Now we sleep on the bare, cold floor.
I used to feed my children good food, including milk and butter from livestock. Now my children are struggling to survive with little, or sometimes no, food.
“All of my children were attending school. Now they are all out of school because of the conflict.
“I am old now. I am not able to rush when food aid is coming, and when I do I get pushed around by others. My body is fading fast.
I lost my children, wealth, my pride and dignity along the way.
“My children and I are starving”
Almaz is a nine-month-pregnant mother of five.
“We came here because of the ongoing conflict. My two sons stayed behind in the village with relatives willing to protect them. The remaining three daughters are here with me and my husband.
I was afraid for my family’s lives, so we had to flee.
“Before the conflict, we were able to support ourselves and earn money to take care of our health and hygiene. We had our own house, and our own facilities. Here, however, we cannot clean ourselves as we don’t have soap and other washing materials. Dirt has taken over our bodies.
“Several people sleep together in one room [in a former government office in Kochere, now sheltering thousands of displaced people] and the children poop and pee there. Because we are living in a crowded room with other people, we sleep next to the bathroom, which is used daily by around 3,000 people. Hygiene here is really poor. We are vulnerable to falling sick easily.
I am pregnant in my ninth month. I need nutritious food but I can’t get that here.
“All we can eat here is dry corn flour, that is if we are able to get some. And when we have it we cannot cook it because we cannot afford to buy firewood. My children and I are starving.
If you spend a night in our shelter you will not find one person who doesn’t cough.
“Unfortunately there are many pregnant or lactating women, and many who have given birth after coming to this shelter, yet neither we nor our newborns are given any special treatment.
“There’s nothing to wear here. We left our houses without being prepared for it, therefore we didn’t have the time to grab extra clothes and we are freezing here on the cold bare cement floors.
I sleep coiled on the ground with my children and it makes me very sad. If it wasn’t for God and the government’s support, we wouldn’t be alive today.
“I have lost all hope and I don’t know what to do”
Genet, age 22, is the mother of a new-born baby.
“My husband was killed as a result of the conflict. Our house was also burnt down to the ground.
My husband was killed, and now I am all alone.
“All this makes me sick. I was pregnant at the time and they were about to kill me as well. I escaped and managed to get here with the help of others in my community.
It has been two months since I’ve fled to this area to save my life. I had my baby 28 days ago.
“Luckily enough, people helped me to get to a health post for delivery and I had a safe birth. But there are many others who are pregnant and may not get help.
“Before the conflict and the displacement I used to lead a decent life. My husband was a business man and I used to sell food items.
I ran for my life to get here, that’s why I don’t have any clothing for me, let alone anything for my baby.
“I don’t know anyone around here which is why I have been staying at this health post. [Genet is actually living in a hut that was used as a kitchen.]
“My parents live far away and my parents-in-law were killed along with my husband and his brother.
I don’t know where I am going to go from here.
“The people at the health post are providing me with food and receive some food aid for me, but for how long is this going to last? I don’t have cooking utensils to cook my food. Staff of the health post have lent me cooking materials belonging to the health post.
I also don’t have clothes to change for my baby or a scarf for me to wrap myself while going out.
“I have lost all hope and I don’t know what to do. I would love to go back home and build a life with my baby.”
Interviews by Daniel Tesfu and Esete Kebede of CARE Ethiopia
How CARE is responding
Over 1 million people, the majority of whom are women and children, are in need of urgent humanitarian assistance, particularly food, shelter, clean drinking water and psychosocial support. The Ethiopian government is leading and coordinating efforts to provide assistance, but with the country having already endured years of drought and water scarcity, international assistance is needed to prevent loss of life following the scale of displacement caused by the recent inter-communal conflict.
CARE is now urgently scaling up our response to help people in Gedeo. We are focusing on preventing the outbreak of diseases by providing water and sanitation support to communities and distributing aid kits, including items such as soap, buckets, blankets and cooking pots, to people arriving in Gedeo. In response to the increased prevalence and risk of gender-based violence, we are creating woman and child-friendly spaces, and will provide psycho-social counselling to the most vulnerable.
Read more about the situation in this blog by Fred McCray, CARE’s deputy regional director for the Horn of Africa, published on the Thomson Reuters Foundation News website:
I have worked in the humanitarian field for almost 20 years in places like Afghanistan and South Sudan, yet I did not grasp how dire the situation in Ethiopia is until I saw it firsthand.
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