Life in a refugee camp


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Africa » Ghana » Greater Accra » Accra
December 8th 2007
Published: December 8th 2007
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So I'm currently in Accra for the day - sitting in an amazingly air conditioned internet cafe - I already told me friends they're going to have to tear me outta here to go back out in that heat! Close your eyes and imagine yourself in a sauna, hot yes but it feels soo good...got it? Okay now imagine you're in a sauna with ALL your clothes on...got it? Okay, that's how I feel 24/7...it's worth it though...the work that I'm doing here...its amazing. I have never felt soo much passion or energy for any work that I've done. I know that this is my calling and what I'm meant to do because after being here I couldn't imagine doing anything else. The camp is pure craziness..its a mess...it emotionally draining and difficult..its stressful...its frustrating...but again. its worth it.

There are 40,000+ Liberians on camp plus a handfull (at least) of refugees from the Cote D'Ivoire. The war in Liberia started back in 1990 and ended about 4 years ago. There are 16 different tribes in Liberia and due to a handful of reasons (nothing can be pinpointed exactly as to how the war began) the war began and people had to flee. Villages were burned, the capital of Montrovia - buildings covered in bullet holes, children were kidnapped and became child soldiers, etc. If you have seen Blood Diamond (I know its a movie and all but the things that happen to people in that movie happened to these people!). Refugees fled from the beginning, some coming straight to Ghana and others heading to Cote D'Ivoire (country between Liberia and Ghana) and then once turmoil began in Cote D'Ivoire more came to Ghana. There are two camps in Ghana with Buduburam being the largest.

When they first arrived in Ghana the camp was what you imagined a refugee camp to be - tents, tents, and more tents set up. However, due to the location of the camp refugees were dying due to snakebites due to the various snakes that reside in the fields (don't even get me started abuot this - black mombas and cobras are my daily fear as I walk through the pathway between where I live and the main road). So for this factor and the fact that so mnay refugees were arriving they started to build small brick homes with tin roofs. So it is now like a little village - there are bars (my mom was QUITE surprised to hear this when I talked to my parents the other day), restaurants, little shops, schools, etc.
Now this is the problem - the UN is trying to pull out..slowly but surely...out of the camp. Since its now "safe" to go back the Liberians have three options:
1) Resettlement - this means to be resettled in another country - USA, Canada, UK, etc.
2) Integration - means to be integrated into the Ghanaian society
3) Repatriation - to go back to Liberia

Now there are of course problems with all three of these. Of course they would love to go home, HOWEVER, they have no home left to go to. Homes were burned, family members were massacred in front of them, most have no idea if their family members are alive or dea, no jobs, etc. Liberia is just starting to "rebuild" what do they have to go back to unless they have money - and NOBODY in the camp has money. Liberia has a lot of potential but like in the next 10-20 years. Plus with sixteen tribes making up Liberia there is no guarantee that fighting wont break out again - you can only pray that it doesn't but that still doesn't make these people feel anymore assured about going home.

They of course all want to be resettled but no country could take in 40,000 refugees - you couldn't even split them between a few countries - since, for example, the US is extremely strict and has a quota as to how many refugees they will accept per year. Plus you have to think about the cultural issues as well when the UN thinks about resettling refugees. They have to be given cultural classes and language classes at the UN office in Accra. Liberian English is well, now our english by any means!

Integration is the last thing that these people want. The Ghanaian society isn't exactly "welcoming" to the Liberians - of course, hundreds if not thousands of babies have been born in this camp during the last 17 years and were not given Ghanaian citizenship. The Ghanaian government makes it extremely difficult for them to work outside the camp. A lot of the girls resort to coming to Accra to prostitute themselves just so they can eat.

Anyways, its a huge problem figuring out what everyone is going to do but we just take it day by day.

So yes, people are starving on camp, tons of children arent in school because they need to sell things in order to make money, the child soldiers are of course "messed up" and drink and smoke all day - but seriously, you cant really blame them after all they've been through, people are sick - need medications and operations. The UN just cant do it all, volunteers cant help - you're constantly asked for money but you never know where the money is really going to and you cant have them start depending on you.

As for what I do on camp - I absolutely love it. We're holding a workshop and forum next week for the Tribal Leaders and Elders which should be really good. The Peace Cells is amazing - its what really gets my passion and energy up. Its difficult though - to hear the stories of the war, to have women come and tell their stories of how their husbands left them and their children are starving..I've definitely had eyes full of tears at many meetings - especially when it comes to the children. They're just soo innocent and luckily did not have to experience many of the things that their parents went through, but at the same time growing up in a refugee camp is not right either. They should be in school, they should be healthy and well fed. So as I walk around camp, whether I have time or not, I great everyone (well, not all the men since they can be quite a handfull at times) but especially the children I will stop and play with, tickle them and swing them around just to get some smiles on their faces.

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Okay so now on to NOT so depressing stuff.

Last weekend we hung out on camp and went to a Liberian dance and drumming performance which was amazing. Im in Accra today and will be going to the beach tomorrow (about 10 min drive from camp). Next weekend we're all heading to Cape Coast which is where they would put the slaves on the ships to send to Europe and America. Its supposed to be really intense but you cant leave Ghana without going. Camp can really take a toll on your spirit so almost everyone takes the weekends to "get away from it all" (we're lucky that we are able to since they sure as hell can't). But since we're with Liberians all day, every day - you could come to Ghana and really not "experience" Ghana - we live in "Little Liberia". Two weekends ago we went to Ada Foah - seriously it was like going to Fiji but paying nothing to go! Its this amazing, amazing, amazing place. White sand beaches with the ocean on one side and the Volta River on the other. Little huts on the beach with just a bed inside - sand floor. You sleep, shower, eat, drink, etc. on the sand...There is a bar and the food is FABULOUS FABULOUS FABULOUS. A hut costs 5 ghana cds (5 bucks) A NIGHT.Yea, seriously cheap but beyond beautiful. Lined with palm trees and hammocks its for sure paradise.

Thanks to everyone who has called and sent me text message - I love getting them so keep up coming - it helps me feel at least "somewhat" in touch with home. I can get onto myspace as well as facebook but still have yet to find a computer that will allow me to reply to messages and comments on facebook!
I hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving - we celebrated - it was a Liberian thanksgiving for sure but we did do smores for dessert! We get two weeks off for Christmas and New Years - Ill definitely spend xmas on camp not sure about New Years yet. I have to go to Togo cause I can only be in Ghan for 60 days at a time so we're planning on traveling to Togo and then Benin for 9 days or so - Togo is where "voodoo" was "created" so its supposed to be nuts over there!

All good things in Ghana come in plastic packages - for drinking water you buy lil plastic bags, bite off a corner, and drink it down - it costs about 3 cents each. You can also get frozen packets of chocolate milk (as most of you all know my fav drink ever so frozen - its heaven for me!), they also have it in a frozen strawberry yogurt and a vanilla cream thing...we eat a lot of em! Of course, I've told you all about Rockstar - the caramel flavoured whisky in lil plastic packets...well, they have strawberry gin here (with sprite - quite possibly the best drink ever!), and get ready for this..SANGRIA (one of my ultime favs) in a box! Yep, pop off the top, put in a straw and its a HUGE alcoholic juice box! Its imported from Spain so yea, its "authentic".

Hmm, what else....ohh, Ghanaian/Liberian food...ohh soo good but ohhh soo freakin spicy. I cant eat half the stuff cause its just too spicy for me....and I do mean pretty much everything is spicy! I live off of the plantains and pineapple here...soo good!

So I have 10 weeks left..then Im coming home. My mom and I are still trying to find a "reasonable" flight to get me home. So Ill be home probably the 15 or 16th of February. Then..who knows. Yes, I have decided to apply again to do Peace Corps, but it will really depend on which country - they just opened it up for Liberia which would be amazing as well as one of the Middle East countries so I could continue my Arabic. So Ill keep you all updated. Im also looking at heading to Jordan for a year to study Arabic, looking at jobs (but right now I need "adventure" in my life and am just not really ready yet to stop the traveling). Im also looking at a program for next summer in India working with health and education...who knows though, every day I wake up with a different idea! If anyone knows of anything "fun" lemme know! I will also need some sort of a job at least for a while - soo look out for me!

K, I'm off to buy some fabric to have some clothes designed for me! Soo great, amazing fabric, and they can make anything you want - so Im having some nice outfits designed for the holidays! Then we're going to get cheese - I'm definitely missing some foods from home - but there is a "western" grocery store here in accra - everything is way overpriced so I dont buy anything - it will make everything taste that much better when I get home - but we all buy a bunch of different cheeses with crackers and bread and have a feast!

Love to all,
~D

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11th December 2007

WOW!
Your mom just sent me a link to your blog, Danielle. Such exciting, wonderful stuff you're doing! You're a special person. Stay strong and safe. The world needs hearts and hands like yours, Danielle. Wishing you a wonderful "Liberian Christmas" and everything wonderful in the New Year! Fondly, Vicki Brooker
11th February 2008

Thank you
Thank you for writing about this, Danielle. I am in daily contact with people in the camp, who are so desperate for help - and I have so little in personal funds. I would like to suggest that people who have a heart to help will find a wonderful man in Brother Marius Goulei whose website http://www.freewebs.com/wwordministries/ will detail his work and pictures. This man has UN approval and is legitimate as far as I can determine. Other people in the camp had verified this for me, even those who compete with him for funds. I suggest you contact him with any offer of help at all. Even a little is a help and Western Union is easy to use - the money is there in minutes. If you mention my name - he calls me "Sis Carol" - it will help him to identify you as well. There is so much need but this is one small effort. Please help! And Thank You again Danielle.
26th February 2008

Please write me
Daniel I know this man Marius very well, I was supporting him on the camp for two years and I would like you to write me please.
2nd April 2008

I know both Sis Carol and Sis Shanna
Hello Daniel, thank you for your site. I think it is a blessing for many other. I am brother Marius. It was just to say Hi Marius www.wwordministries.webs.com

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