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The Gambella Project: Supporting older refugees

19 Jun 2015

Nyith with his home-based carer. (c) HelpAge InternationalAt the beginning of April, I had a second opportunity to visit HelpAge's project to support South Sudanese refugees in Gambella. 

Last time, I saw how we had helped over 2,200 older refugees in Tierkidi camp with UNHCR funds. The older refugees we supported received rations of maize, which is their staple food.

Training carers to help older refugees

Over 300 older people and another 290 older refugees had their sight restored as they were treated for eye problems and were given spectacles. This time I visited all three camps, Kule, Leitchour and Tierkidi. With continued funding from UNHCR, we are supporting a further 6,000 older refugees.

In Kule, I saw over 600 older refugees receiving sleeping mats, mattresses, pillows, blankets, bed pans, buckets, bath and laundry soaps and jerry cans for storing water.

During the distribution, I also saw how members of older people's group and home-based care providers, who were selected from the refugee community and trained by HelpAge helped older refugees to carry and transport their items homes. In Leitchour, over 1,500 older people received 25kg rations of maize each.

Forced to flee with nothing

I also had the opportunity to meet two older refugees, Nyith, 75, and Nyachoat, 70. They were surrounded by their families who were keeping them company. Both blind, they were forced to flee from Akobo County in South Sudan when the civil war took its toll.

Nyachout with her family. (c) HelpAge InternationalThey didn't have time to save any of their possessions and endured three days without food or drink on their journey to the safety of Ethiopia. Once in Gambella, UNHCR transported them to Leitchour where they have been living for the past year.

So, how has HelpAge been supporting them?

Nyachoat said: "Through HelpAge, I have received a mattress, a plastic mat, bed sheets and a pillow to comfortably sleep and rest on, as well as a walking stick to help me move around more safely, a bucket and a jerry can to collect and store water.

"Most importantly HelpAge is providing me and my family with 30 kg of maize per month. My daughter cooks it for me. I enjoy it because I can easily digest it."

Providing shelter

Nyith stated: "My shelter was made from local materials and couldn't withstand the weather. It was severely damaged during the last rainy season. HelpAge told UNHCR about my case and ensured that I got a tent. I am deeply grateful to HelpAge for this tent for me and my family."

"HelpAge is like my father. I am old and blind, I can't work anymore. HelpAge is providing me with food and other items and home-based care. HelpAge has done a lot for me and it makes me very happy. If it wasn't for HelpAge's support, my life would be very, very hard."

During the visit I also met Mr Wal Domok, 50, the home-based care provider for both Nyith and Nyachoat. He said: "HelpAge gave me training on how to carry out home-based care for older people. After the training, I started attending older people for example, Nyith. He is 75 years old and blind.

Giving advice on health and nutrition

"I visit him twice a day in his home and keep him company. I advise his family how to care for him. I tell them to give him his food early on time so he doesn't get hungry.

"To prevent disease, I tell them to keep the house and floors clean and also to support him by washing clothes and bathing him. If Nyith gets sick, I refer him to the nearby health post where he receives the necessary treatment and medication. I also report to the community advisors on the overall status of the older people in my care."

I visited Tierkidi camp where I saw the centre built for older people. The centre was built for future distributions and trainings for older people's groups and home-based carers. Most importantly though, it was built to give older people a place to pass on their knowledge as well as teach younger refugees about their culture.

HelpAge's project team has built great relationships with the local refugee community in Gambella. It is our team's immense commitment in such a harsh environment that is making an invaluable difference to the lives of thousands of South Sudanese refugees.

Find out more about our work supporting older people in Ethiopia.

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Author profile

Erna Mentesnot Hintz
Country: Ethiopia
Job title: Communications Officer

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These blogs are personal reflections and do not necessarily reflect the views of HelpAge International.