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We met Elella (pictured below) in the town of Lokitaung, around 50km on the Kenyan side of the Ethiopian border. She had come to the town to try to sell charcoal. Every day she walks 5km to Lokitaung in a desperate attempt to earn money.
It is an enterprise which rarely pays off, although perhaps once a week she might earn 70 Shillings (60 cent), enough to purchase a tiny amount of food for her family. It is not enough to feed them, but it keeps the aching pains of hunger at bay for a few hours at least.
We offered her a lift back to her village and she gratefully accepted. Elella is an elderly lady and the 5km walk in the searing Kenyan heat is not easy. Especially when she hasn’t eaten in two days.
Elella is not used to sitting in cars. For the duration of the journey she wrapped her arm around my leg to steady herself. Her arm was so thin that it had been reduced to bone wrapped in skin – a tiny forearm which bulged at the elbow before returning to its narrow path to the shoulder.
Her village is a small one; a tight group of families who live communally, sharing whatever they have. These days, they don’t have much. In fact, they don’t have anything.
It has not rained here in over a year. Not a drop. The animals on which they depend for survival are dead. The empty animals pens serve as a stark reminder both of what they once had and of what they have lost.
Elella and her community are surviving on wild berries and bits of tree (pictured below). The berries are not suitable for human consumption; they make people sick but what choice do they have?
Elella has never seen anything like this before.
“The famine started last year,” she says. “There were no rains last year or this year. We have had drought for two years. The animals tried to survive but couldn’t. There is no grass, nothing. Thousands of goats have died.
“When there used to be drought it was never prolonged. We don’t know when it will rain again. Sometimes we see clouds coming and we hope that rain might follow, but nothing comes. We need food. Food is essential, it is the most basic thing. We need food before anything else. If there are no people with the good heart to help us we will die, of that I am certain.”
In every village we visit we hear the same thing. The faces change, the names change, but the story remains the same: no animals, no crops, no water, no food.
People here are starving.
Trócaire is moving food and water into the area, trying to reach as many people as possible. Some maize, some beans, some rice. Just the basics; just what people need to survive.
It may not sound like much, but without it Elella and her community say they will face certain death.