Life at stake

By Saado Abdi

The news about Covid-19 struck us hard here in Kakuma refugee camp in 2019. As we watched the outbreak unfold on television, particularly China, the entire camp felt a profound sense of pity. Together, we prayed for them. A rumor then began to circulate—the virus didn’t affect black people, only white. This gave us a sense of safety. At the time, I was in my third year studying social work at Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology, located in Kenya’s Kakamega county. Life continued seemingly undisturbed, our academic routine continued as usual because no cases had been reported in Kenya.

Things got heated when we heard reports of the virus spreading rapidly to other countries . It was terrifying to hear the numerous deaths reported each day. I normally avoided the daily news, instead focusing on the daily demands of the camp. However, with the threat of the virus, I couldn’t help watching news broadcasts daily. I was not only the one, I saw so many people around do the same. That’s when we got afraid. Personally, I felt terrible and worried. When I looked around the camp, I saw the same fear in the eyes of my fellow people. To make the matter worse, we were left in the dark, no information was given about the virus. Questions stacked in our minds, but all we could do was continue our lives as best as we could under the circumstances.

After some months the first case was reported in Kenya. Anxiety and tension increased with each passing day as the number of cases and deaths rose. Soon, Covid-19 cases were reported in the camp as well. Many refugees, myself included, experienced anxiety, stress, and isolation. The pandemic exposed our vulnerability, our limited access to support and mental health services, our overcrowded living conditions, scarce clean water, and inadequate sanitation facilities that made us particularly vulnerable to the spread of the virus. The pandemic disrupted the education of many refugee children as well, with schools in camps often closed or switched to online learning, an option that wasn’t out of reach to many students.

The streets were empty. The lively bustle that once filled the street vanished. Many closed their businesses. Imagine the loss they encountered. I felt so insecure and vulnerable. Being a young woman navigating this crisis, I felt the burden of misfortune weighing on me. Among my Somali community, many women and young girls panicked were convinced they were going to die in this camp. Several organizations have implemented preventive measures such as social distancing, improved sanitation protocols, and increased access to healthcare. However, due to our challenging living conditions, these measures are often difficult to follow.

Our lives were at stake.

13 June, 2023