Ethiopia Blog 12: Gambella

by Frank Dimmock
*written on Wednesday June 20 (World Refugee Day) from Kinshasa (DRC)

Today is a day where the world should remember and recognize the plight of more than 65 million people globally displaced from their homes.1 Many are refugees fleeing violence and war, others are seeking asylum, but contrary to popular belief, over 58 million are being hosted in neighboring developing countries. In June 2017 I was enroute to Ethiopia on World Refugee Day. During the past two weeks I have been privileged to spend more time with many South Sudanese refugees from six camps in the Gambella region of western Ethiopia. Their situation is fragile as food and water rations are limited, schools and teachers are inadequate to meet the needs, and there is growing pressure on available firewood and fuel. In spite of the growing demands, the UN agencies and Ethiopian government are trying their best to provide for basic needs and a secure environment. They pray daily for peace in South Sudan and the opportunity to rebuild their homeland.

On Monday, I spent time with the regional protection officer of UNHCR 2 to investigate if there were others providing trauma healing and psychosocial support to the over 400,000 refugees in the area. I was hoping to identify others to collaborate with and provide follow-up counseling support to those we’ve trained during the past year. It was a short meeting as there are no existing programs to address the mental health/trauma pain of refugees in the camps at the current time. She recognized this as a priority need and encouraged The Outreach Foundation and partners to continue. She was pleased to learn that the Presbyterian Church of South Sudan has established 16 large preschools in the camps.

The current statistics indicate that 63% of the refugees registered by UNHCR are children (i.e. <18 years old). There are a significant number who are “unaccompanied or separated minors.” There are posted pictures of many of these children around Gambella town, intending to help identify extended relatives and solicit foster care help.

I have been away from U.S. news,* but those around me have brought the situation with forced separation of children from immigrating parents at the U.S. border to my attention. There is not enough time for me to respond to this, or the fact that the U.S. has yet to ratify the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Please be informed, pray and advocate for the children who are politically and economically invisible.

On Monday in Gambella Pastor David Paduil led a meeting of representatives from camp relief committees. They were discussing coordination issues, and I was able to present the results of the trauma healing trainings and seek their support. They reiterated the priority of trauma healing and mental health support for all. They remain hopeful for peace, but indicated that it would only be sustained if there is healing, forgiveness and reconciliation.

On Tuesday, David and I flew back to Addis Ababa and today I continued on to Kinshasa, DRC to attend a health meeting tomorrow. I return to Addis and on Monday will meet with two psychiatrists about strategies to support refugee trauma recovery. They work at the central referral hospital and are also teaching at the University. I leave for the U.S. late that evening.

It has been a pleasure, and is always an eye-opener, to be engaged in this work. God provides, and his grace is sufficient – he deserves the glory. My South Sudanese friends continue to inspire me as they are always praising him and thanking him each day!

I come home with many photographs and stories to share. Please contact me if I can share with you and your church.

Blessings in Christ,

1. UNHCR Global Trends Report, released on June 19, 2018 (figure from December 2017)
2. UNHCR = United Nations High Commission for Refugees
* There is much more interest in the World Cup results than U.S. politics!