Story by Calli Forbes, Communications Aid Worker
In 2018 alone, roughly 2.4 million people have been forced to flee their homes in communities across Ethiopia because of ongoing conflict. This makes Ethiopia the country with the most newly internally displaced people in 2018, surpassing some of the world’s worst conflict zones like Syria and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Across the country, neighbouring communities fight for access to land and resources to grow crops and graze cattle.
I recently traveled to southern Ethiopia, where the Red Cross has been delivering supplies to families fleeing violence. Most families are now living in overcrowded host communities, with little access to food, clean water and health services.
During my time visiting Red Cross distribution sites, I met with mothers and their young children who graciously shared their experiences with me.
Treza Yohannes Keshamo, 28
Treza Yohannes Keshamo gazes across a compound where community members have gathered to receive supplies from the local Red Cross. Her young daughter fusses in her lap, struggling to break free from her mother’s strong embrace.
I ask the 28-year-old mother what brings her here today and she tells me they fled when violence in the villages started escalating.
“We fled with nothing but our children,” She recalls.
While she remains composed, it’s difficult not to see the sadness behind her eyes.
Treza came from a village in southern Ethiopia where she and her husband worked hard to provide for their six children.
“My children had a comfortable life. They had enough food, clean water, clothing and shelter,” Treza says. “But now they are suffering.”
Unfortunately, the situation she describes is not unique. Since October, more than 20,000 people have fled to this area of southern Ethiopia – the Kembata Zone.
The young mothers I spoke with shared stories of grabbing their children in the middle of the night to flee violence. Most left with nothing but the clothes on their backs, traveling hundreds of kilometres in search of safety.
They spoke of the sorrow they felt for the loss of loved ones and a shared longing for the sense of security their families once knew.
Debritu Tessema, 25
Debritu Tessema and son Musse Kifle.“I had a good life,” recalls 25-year-old Debritu Tessema. “My husband was a farmer. We grew food in our backyard.”
“This was our life.”
But after receiving threats against her family, Debritu and her husband knew they could not stay in their community.
“We were afraid for our lives,” she says. “I was afraid for my children.”
While Debritu and her family were sleeping one night, their home was set on fire. She and her family managed to escape unharmed. They brought two cows with them, which they sold to pay for three months rent in their new host community.
“We are buying our food with the rest of the money. And I am also trading fruits and vegetables to feed my children,” she explains.
“I am not living a happy life.”
Beylanesh Zewdie, 35
Belaynesh Zewdie and her daughterBeylanesh Zewdie has been living with relatives for three months now after her home was attacked and looted.
“I hid my children under the bed when the conflict broke out. They came inside my house to kill my husband. My husband (was shot in) his leg, but he is alive,” she says.
With her husband still recovering, Beylanesh says she now heavily relies on her relatives and church community to feed her family. But she’s hopeful she can find work and change her family’s situation.
“We do not want to be a burden to our people,” she says.
Long and challenging roads lie ahead for these three young mothers. They know they can’t return to their homes, even if they remain standing. But they keep going forward – like any mother would – determined to build new lives for their families.
The Red Cross is working together to meet the needs of families and individuals fleeing conflict across Ethiopia. To date, the Ethiopian Red Cross, with the support of Canadian, Swiss and Danish Partner National Societies, has delivered supplies to more than 10,000 people particularly mothers and young children.
This much-needed assistance includes items like food, hygiene products and cooking materials. The Red Cross is coordinating with government and other organizations to help meet the most basic of needs and ensure that displaced families are living with dignity and security.