Notes from the Field: Djibouti

Like its neighbouring countries in East Africa, Djibouti faced a crisis due to the chronic lack of water and continued presence of Somali refugees, coupled with new arrivals and virtually no humanitarian organizations on the ground. Given CARE’s strength in humanitarian response and CARE Canada’s particular expertise in supporting refugee and host communities, CARE recently established an office in Djibouti to reinforce the quality of the overall humanitarian response to this crisis.

CARE Canada’s emergency director, Jessie Thomson, traveled to Djibouti in September 2012. These are her observations from the field:

I have returned from just over a week in Djibouti.

I visited our ongoing emergency operations in the District of Ali Sabieh where CARE is providing primary health services and water, sanitation and hygiene interventions in support of the refugee population. We’re also working to improve access to clean water for the host communities, who are seriously affected by severe drought.

Most of the refugees come from Somalia and have been in the camps for close to 20 years, still depending on WFP food rations and basic services provided by UNHCR and its partners. One of the Ethiopian refugees I spoke with told me he feels like he lives in a human zoo, a heart-breaking reference that speaks to the enormous injustice of these protracted refugee situations. I must say, there’s something that still shocks me about finding people living in tents so long after they fled their homes.

Djibouti is the kind of place that has an impact on you immediately because of the dramatic landscapes and harsh climate. Endless miles of black volcanic rocks make you feel a bit like you’re on the moon. After five years of chronic drought, rural communities are in a desperate situation. Whole communities have picked up and left their lives in rural areas, setting up in urban slums on the outskirts of Djibouti-town in search of work and a better life, finding little of either once they arrive.

CARE undertakes After Action Reviews (AARs) in all major emergencies. AARs are tools for us to reflect on how responsive we were to the needs on the ground, the progress we made, areas that we did well, areas we did not do so well and why, the challenges we encountered, and key lessons and recommendations for our emergency interventions in the future.

After Action Reviews always pull at my heartstrings and make me incredibly proud to be a member of the CARE team. It’s amazing to witness our country office (CO) teams coming together with a strong desire to identify their successes and failures and find constructive ways to improve in order to better serve our beneficiaries in the future.

The CARE Djibouti team, like most CARE CO staff, was quick to be able to identify the challenges and areas for improvement, always being too hard on themselves and not recognizing how much they were able to achieve under incredibly difficult circumstances.

That said, it was pretty amazing to watch them go through the process of identifying what went well, the successes that they were able to achieve, and to see the pride they felt as a team when they saw it all summarized in front of them.

I always meet amazing and dedicated staff when I travel to our country offices, but I think that all those who joined me in this visit to Djibouti will agree that there is something very special about the team there.

Their enthusiasm, their commitment and their desire to help their communities and the refugees that they continue to host was and remains unquestionable.

CARE is assisting nearly 20,000 refugees with health, nutrition and hygiene support and providing emergency water, sanitation and hygiene support to 35,000 people in the host communities around the refugee camps.

Learn how you can support CARE’s efforts to defend dignity and fight poverty world wide.