The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America


Living free from violence

In Dadaab, Kenya, Lutherans help women rebuild their lives

Mahadu Biriye beams across her desk. Warm and friendly, she offers a background in counseling, empathy and understanding to women who find their way to the Lutheran-run "Safe Haven" at Hagadera camp.

Hagadera is one of five refugee camps in Dadaab in northeastern Kenya. The Lutheran World Federation manages the camps for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), caring for more than 400,000 displaced people. In the last three years the refugee population has grown by 85 percent.

Across the Horn of Africa, more than 12 million people lack food due to widespread drought and famine. At the end of August, 450,000 people were displaced from 12 countries, with the largest number (95 percent) from Somalia. Half of all those displaced are women.

Community Peace and Security team members
Community Peace and Security team members Fatuma Isaac Ar (middle) and Adow Ibrahim Ali (right) talk with an unidentified woman about ordinary difficulties in the Dagahaley camp, part of the huge Dadaab refugee complex in northeastern Kenya. Safety is an important issue in the Lutheran-run camp, which is brimming with people fleeing drought in Somalia.

Safe Haven was started to help some of these women. Almost devoid of trees, seemingly desolate, Hagadera's fenced compound holds about 20 rectangular buildings with blue roofs. Biriye's welcome and the happiness of the families who live here is evidence that the program is fulfilling its purpose. To the three families who currently live in the haven, it's a welcome sanctuary.

The number of residents varies. Safe Haven has housed about 100 people at a time but can accommodate as many as 120 — women and children fleeing desperate situations. "Mostly they encounter problems with their male relatives," Biriye said.

The intention is for women and their families to stay in the shelter a maximum of three months. Sometimes the problems that force the women to seek out Safe Haven are resolved and they can resume their lives in the refugee community. Other women and their children have remained as long as three years.

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