Miriam Furze, ToughStuff’s International Relief and Development Officer travelled to Melkadida refugee camp in the Dollo Ado region on the Ethiopian/ Somali border to oversee the delivery of 6,000 personal solar light kits to thousands of refugees without light.
Flying into Dollo Ado by helicopter you can see the refugee camps from the air. From this height it’s hard to imagine the sheer scale of the camps spread across this barren landscape. On the ground however, the reality is impossible to avoid. The Dollo Ado region is host to four, soon to be five, refugee camps. Over 135,000 refugees live here now, driven from their homes by the worst famine in 20 years and the violent conflicts unsettling Somalia. Almost 8,000 refugees are already awaiting the opening of the fifth camp, living in transit zones while they wait. Each day more refugees arrive.
Melkadida is that largest camp in the Dollo Ado region. Home to over 40,000 people, 10,000 ‘households’ live here in tents, sharing one latrine between 600 people. Three doctors treat those who are ill and the two primary schools cater for 2,000 children. For the other 10,000 children of primary school age there are simply not enough school places for them to attend.
It gets dark here at six, and once the sun goes down the refugees face 12 hours of darkness. Without light everyday tasks become difficult and hazardous; collecting firewood and using communal latrines, for example. Women and children are particularly vulnerable after dark; in Melkadida that is almost 90% of the population.
It was in response to these needs that Humedica, a German NGO, asked ToughStuff to visit Dollo Ado last week and assist in the training and distribution of 6,000 solar light kits – the first solar lights to be distributed in the region.
I met with the 20 refugees who had been selected to assist in the distribution of the kits; to show them how the solar panels and LED lamps work and train them to demonstrate the products to others.
14 year old Ramla was chosen to be one of the distributors. Ramla and her family have already lived in Melkadida for two years, victims of the political instability in Somalia like so many thousands of refugees here. When she lived in Somalia, Ramla attended school and her parents owned a small shop. In Melkadida there are no schools for children of Ramla’s age and no work for her mother.
Ramla is excited that she and her family will be receiving a solar lamp: “These kits will save my family money, we normally have to spend 26birr ($1.50) on batteries for a lamp every week, but the light isn’t very good and the batteries run down quickly.”
“Without good light we have a lot of problems but now we know we will have free light for the next two years. That is very important to us.”
These simple products will have an enormous impact on the lives of thousands of families like Ramla’s, offering a new sense of safety and security, making daily tasks much easier and bringing an invaluable sense of normality to daily life.
A further 4,000 solar light kits are due to be distributed by Humedica and ToughStuff in the New Year; enough in total to provide light to each of the 10,000 households in Melkadida. For the 40,000 refugees living here, in what often seems to be a hopeless situation, receiving solar lamps may just provide a ray of hope that the future might just be about to get a bit better.