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Refugees meet basic needs with help of LDS Church

By Jesse Hyde | Posted - Apr. 15, 2012 at 10:19 p.m.


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DOLO ADO, Ethiopia -- The worst drought in living memory has devastated the Horn of Africa, causing hundreds of thousands to flee Somalia. Some have been lucky enough to land in Utah, but most who leave end up in massive refugee camps along the border.

To see just how big the refugee camps are in Ethiopia, we had to get a bird's eye view. They aren't camps -- they are sprawling cities where boys fly kites, marriages are made, and miraculously, life marches on.

There are five refugee camps in this area of Ethiopia, which is called the Dolo region. In the oldest and largest camp, there are about 40,000 people. At the height of the crisis 6,000-7,000 people crossed the border to get in to Ethiopia every day.

To understand why they've come to a place with no electricity or running water, you have to understand what they left behind. They fled not only the worst drought in living memory, but a war torn country with a corrupt and broken government.

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Outside a camp called Bokomayo lives a woman named Anneke Swetsloote, who is trying to help thousands of refugees in partnership with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

It's such a rural area, that there's a total lack of everything. Even the host communities don't have the basics. For as long as Swetsloote has worked at the camp, mothers have had to trek from one end to the other to line up for water and food.

To fix that problem, the LDS Church built four nutrition centers throughout the camp, which has made the process more clean and orderly. It also allows nurses to check up on malnourished children, making sure they're getting enough to eat.

"It's amazing to see the mothers alone with a couple children, how they set up their household and how they remain cheerful and full of energy to cope with the things that are there," Swetsloote, a counselor with the International Medical Corps said. "And they're very willing and interested to contribute to survive and also to support the others that are arriving."


I like my work in the camps because it advocates for the right of everyone.

–- Amina, refugee


Not that it's easy. There aren't enough latrines in the camp and so the LDS Church and IMC are building more, which will slow the spread of disease. The Church is also paying for a brick-and-mortar women's center, which is where Swetsloote will spend most of her time.

One of those women is Amina, who walked eight days from Somalia to get to the camp.

"We left so we could get food, security and also so some of our children could get education," she said.

Amina works for Swetsloote as a gender-based violence coordinator, counseling victims of domestic violence.

"I like my work in the camps because it advocates for the right of everyone," Amina said.

Amina doesn't know when she'll leave the camp. For now, she feels safe, and looks forward to the day she can start a family of her own.

The crisis is not over -- hundreds of people still flee Somalia every day -- but things are getting better. And with each passing day, there's a sense of hope for the future of this land.

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Jesse Hyde

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