September 18, 2008

Refugee camp in my city

On Tuesday Joshua and I went to visit a refugee camp. Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors without Borders) have a travelling awareness campaign which sets up a replica “Refugee camp in your city”. I heard about it on the radio and convinced Joshua to come check it out with me. In the middle of Martian place was a collection of small tarp covered structures. There were tours given by volunteers with MSF who had worked in refugee camps around the world.

There were little tents, about the size of my bed. In this space a family of 8-10 people could live!
Around the tents were artefact's made by actual refugees. As our guide explained, people can spend years in a refugee camp, so they begin to create a life for themselves using whatever bits and pieces they can find. In this picture you can see thongs (flip-flops) made from old tires. A toy truck made from old tin cans.

I especially loved the collection of pegs fashioned from wood, in a caved bowl.

This is the inside of a ‘permanent’ structure (basically corrugated iron and wood). There is the usual mosquito net to prevent malaria, and a collection of cooking bowls made from gourds.

In a refugee camp MSF tries to make sure each person has at least 20L of water a day. Compare that to the 282L that Australians use per person per day.

We were shown the ration that is ideal for a person in a camp for a day. In the bowl was rice, a high protein bean and a powdered solution which was high in protein and added vitamins which could be made into a porridge type meal. This is similar calories to a Big Mac and a thick shake. Ideally this is what is allotted for each person per day, but as the rations are handed out once every three months towards the end of that period food starts to run out.

The things I found most interesting was the way that ordinary people lived in the camps. They also showed us a lot about the medical side of things (seeing as how that’s what MSF is most concerned with). Looking at how they determine if a child is malnourished, how they vaccinate people, and the education programs they set up to tell people about hygiene and how to stop the spread of diseases. As many people who come to refugee camps are use to a nomadic/traditional life style the way they would normally go about these practises are inappropriate once they are in a concentrated area with over 10,000 people.

It’s sad to think that the main 4 causes of death in a refugee camp are; Malaria, chest infections, diarrhoea and measles, all of which do have easy cures in a normal context. Our guide explained that technically most people don’t die from malnutrition, but that when people are malnourished they are more susceptible to diseases and are less able to fight the diseases.

I was so interested when she showed us a new way of detecting malaria which doesn’t need microscopes. You just put a drop of blood in the bottom of the test, and if the second line shows that’s a positive for malaria, but if only one shows that’s a negative. These would be great to send to missionaries in remote places that have malaria!

(unfortunately I didn't get a photo of the test, but I did a search on the net and I think this is the one they showed us)

One of the stories which touched me was of a man who had been born into a refugee camp, and had lived there his whole life. He was now 30, and there was little chance of leaving to live a ‘normal’ life. I sometimes worry that my life has little direction, but really I have nothing to complain about.

The main thing is that the camp made me aware of how little I know about the rest of the world, even though I like to think of myself as well informed. This all could easily have been very depressing experience. But it was done with great sensitivity and I left feeling positive. Yes there are big, huge problems around the world, but organisations like MSF and many others are working to make the lives of these people better.

1 comment:

anna said...

Wow, that sounds like a really significant experience. What a good opportunity.