KENYA (BP)–A shaky, spray-painted yellow “X” marked the corner of Peter Kamau’s home. That’s all the warning the Kenyan needed to move his family, furniture and belongings to the side of the road in hopes they could hitch a ride to safety.
Kamau had seen the sign enough to know the meaning -– his house would go up in flames that night.
Mary Mwiruri didn’t have the courtesy of a warning. She said it was only by God’s grace her family escaped their burning home with the clothes on their backs. They lost everything.
The ramifications of Kenya’s post-election violence are fast becoming a humanitarian crisis. The United Nations estimates more than 250,000 Kenyans have been internally displaced since the Dec. 27 election. Nearly 600 have died in a wave of clashes after the opposition claimed the election had been rigged.
Makeshift camps of displaced people steadily pop up at police stations, church courtyards, city stadiums and show grounds. In the first crucial days of the crisis, Baptist Global Response, along with the International Mission Board, responded to critical hunger needs. Donations to the Southern Baptist World Hunger Fund helped feed more than 2,500 families.
“We’ve been able to help with feeding at seven different sites across the country,” says Mark Hatfield, director of Baptist Global Response work in sub-Saharan Africa. “As we pulled up our sleeves and started working side by side with our Kenyan brothers and sisters, we found other needs -– such as blankets and water -– that we’ve been able to meet.
“Basically,” Hatfield says, “we’ve been trying to help these displaced people feel like they are in a safe place.”
Trucks piled high with nylon feed sacks holding clothes and cookware, bulky furniture, and no fewer than 100 people clinging to the top railing slowly roll up the steep Rift Valley slope. The view around them is one of the most spectacular in the world, but they don’t notice. All they can think about is reaching safety and finding food.
Mary Mwiruri and her family are glad to be on the overloaded truck. They spent the last week bouncing from one police station to another.
After running from their burning home, they sought refuge with hundreds of other families Dec. 30. The police provided protection but at the time were unable to get food or water due to roadblocks and violence. Soon those staying at this police station were threatened and an armed escort took them to another station.
“We heard that churches were assisting people like us,” Mwiruri says. “We pleaded to get on this truck heading to a church. We knew they would take care of us.”
The family of five hungrily digs into a hot meal as soon as they arrive at the church-sponsored camp. When a refreshing cup of water is offered, Mwiruri breaks down crying. She didn’t know there were people who cared enough to provide such basic necessities.
“This is exactly what World Hunger funds are all about -– getting food and water to people who need it in a timely manner,” Hatfield says. “Baptist Global Response tries to match people in need with people who care -– and Southern Baptists are definitely people who care.”
After eating, Mwiruri –- a wife and mother of three -– patiently waits in line to enter a tent where donated clothes are stored. Despite having lived in the same clothes for seven days, she tries to find clothes for her children first. Then she helps an 8-year-old girl find clothes for the baby sister strapped to her back.
“A lot of parents put their children on the trucks so they would be safe. The parents or the husband stayed behind to protect their property,” Mwiruri explains.
An estimated 40 percent of the displaced are young children.
A hundred miles away, Kamau lounges comfortably in his favorite chair, resting in the middle of the Nakuru show grounds. He and friends animatedly discuss Kenya’s current situation as they eat plates of ugali (boiled maize meal) and sukuma wiki (greens). For most of these men, it’s their first meal in at least 36 hours.
“We fear going back,” Kamau says. Friends nod in agreement, adding that many in this camp talk about moving to a new location.
Hatfield explains the decision to leave is a major one. Many of the displaced have lived in the same place for 30 or 40 years.
“These are innocent people hurt by the turmoil,” Hatfield says. “They’ve been driven from their homes to these camps out of fear.”
Each “displaced peoples” camp looks strangely similar. Children run and play. Stacks of used clothes are piled high. Women cook over wood fires with extra large pots. Piles of furniture and mattresses litter the yard.
A few of the larger camps provide a little entertainment with comedians or dramas. But for the most part, people just sit waiting for peace and waiting to go home.
Sue Sprenkle, an overseas correspondent for the International Mission Board, has been reporting from Africa for 10 years. To give to Southern Baptist relief and development efforts such as aiding displaced Kenyans, visit gobgr.org.