If I were a songwriter I would write a song about “Everyone Needs a Little Tenderness.” I am sure there are songs about that but this would be reserved for those most in need. I would dedicate it to the Eritrean Unaccompanied Refugee Minors (URMs) living in Ethiopia. To the lovely children I just visited, shook hands with, hugged, sat in their one room mud “homes” on the beds of clay and stone, listened to their stories and who stole my heart. To say they need extra tenderness is an understatement.
These are children just like ours; they like to look cute, they enjoy playing, they want to catch the eye of the opposite sex. However, on a deeper level they are children who have broken hearts. Their fathers and older siblings were taken away by force to serve in the military. Their mothers were left to fend for themselves and their children, with no breadwinner. The boys and girls flee their country because when they turn 18 they too will be carted off by the military. It is not a paid position but a position by force to defend a militant regime. The youth flee their country hoping for a better life across the border, believing rumors of jobs awaiting them. They flee to escape poverty and what feels like a hopeless life.
Once they cross the border into Ethiopia they are picked up by border police and taken to a central “Transition Center” (TC). Their details are taken and they await being taken to a URM camp. Currently there are 137 children at the TC. The problem is the URMs camps are getting full. Currently there are around 1,000 minors at the URM camp that we visited, with the numbers fluctuating constantly. At least at the URM camp they are provided with an education, at the Transition Center they are not. There have been children at the TC for six months waiting to be moved to the URM camp and they continue to wait while boredom causes them to run away, again looking for something better.
Conditions at the URM camp:
Eight youth share a house (the size of the house is approx 9’x10′). All 8 sleep on one stone and clay “bed” like sardines. No sinks, no showers, no toilet paper. No source of light or adult supervision after 7 p.m. Schooling provided.
Conditions at the Transition Center:
No housing for the girls on site with the other refugees. Temporary accommodation in the offices. Boys sleep on the cement floor, 50 to a room. No mattresses, blankets, pillows or beds. Boys urinate in the room at night because it is hard to navigate around 49 other bodies to find the exit. Easy situation for abuse. Girls sleep on foam on the floor. No protection from wandering rodents. No source of light or adult supervision after 7 p.m. No schooling. No games. No activities.
All the refugees receive daily rations of food from the UN and their lives consist of the same routine day in and day out…waiting to be relocated by the government to a better place. However, when that doesn’t happen they often run away believing if they cross the border to neighboring countries they will find work and a better life. They are constantly warned about the dangers of stepping outside the confines of the camp as they become easy prey for human traffickers and for those who murder for organs,(http://www.persecution.org/2013/07/21/eritrean-christians-targeted-by-human-trafficking-ring-flourishing-under-egypts-political-chaos/). They hear the stories but they are children and they think it won’t happen to them.
The organization with whom I traveled: Innovative Humanitarian Solutions, www.innovativehs.net, has now been asked by the government to help specifically at the TC. Currently there are 101 boys and 36 girls but the numbers grow as high as 400 children.
The TC is not set up for this many children. Due to no toilet paper or any other method of cleaning one’s self the boys have used their foam mattresses and have nothing left to sleep on.
There are 12 latrines for the whole TC: this includes the refugee families that live at the center which means hundreds of people sharing the 12 latrines. It is impossible to have good hygiene when not having the means to do so. It was evident through the amount of open sores on these children where the flies would continually land and carry infection.
On top of poor sanitation at the TC there are no activities. There is no school, they do not have games or toys, they don’t have dressers so their very few items cannot be put away, there are no cleaning supplies. They are in need. More than physical items they are in need of reliable adult examples, guidance, love, tenderness and to see the Gospel, the good news being lived among them. One social worker with 137 caseloads does not permit time with each individual child.
The children were so excited to receive a new outfit, a t-shirt, a bar of soap (the boys had to share one bar of soap between 2 boys so for them to receive their very own soap they were thankful), and a new pair of shoes. Some of the children literally had only the clothes they had on their back when they arrived. We were able to distribute over 1,000 items to the children and some refugee families.
It is overwhelming when I think of the magnitude of the problem. HOWEVER, I look at the resources we have in America and I know without a shadow of a doubt that WE CAN MAKE A DIFFERENCE!!! A plan is being formulated by Innovative Humanitarian Solutions and International Treasure House Ministries will partner with them. For now ITHM will sponsor beds, mattresses, solar lights, another latrine or two, a sink for washing their hands, and training on health and sanitation. These small steps can be the start to a better quality of life.
We are waiting for quotes on all of the above items. We have a decent amount of money raised due to the outpouring of generosity before my trip so I thank you! We can sing a song for these children but more importantly we can reach out and show them tenderness.
If you want to contribute to any of these supplies you can do so though making a tax-deductible check to:
23223 S. Warmstone Way
Katy, Texas 77493
Or, you can donate with a credit card at www.facebook.com/ITHMinc by clicking on the “donate now” button.
Please be sure to look at the many photos attached by pressing the “Photos” button below for a better visual.
Jennifer Phillips Lawrence