Ethiopia: Dollo Ado, one year on
11 October 2012

Resilience in the face of adversity. A group of children smile happily at the Melkadida Refugee Camp in Ethiopia, where JRS has been working for the last one year. (Christian Fuchs/JRS)
The one-year journey in Dollo Ado has, despite its challenges, been a success story.
Dollo Ado, 11 October 2012 - The deeper we travelled towards the south-eastern Ethiopian/Somali border close to Kenya, the hotter it became. Initially it was very difficult to cope with the weather conditions. The tents we stayed in became very hot during the day, almost melting us, and when it rained, they flooded. This was the challenging reality of life as a Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) staff member in Melkadida refugee camp when the Dollo Ado project first began operations in November 2011.

A year ago, Dollo Ado was on the front pages of newspapers and headlining on major TV channels. The drought that had ravaged the Horn of Africa, was particularly hard-hitting on Somalia and the resulting influx of Somali refugees, to mainly Kenya and Ethiopia, attracted the attention of millions around the world. Humanitarian agencies started to arrive to work in the refugee camps located within the common border triangle of Somalia/Kenya/Ethiopia.

In early October 2011, I headed to Dollo Ado to assist the team there with the process of setting up the new JRS project. I spent three days travelling by road from Addis Ababa to the remote town of Dollo Ado, a few kilometres away from the Somalia border.

The long trip was an adventure with rough, dusty, hilly roads and arid weather conditions. As we got closer to the areas affected by drought, it was heartbreaking to see animal carcasses lying on the sides of the road, abandoned by their owners as they sought refuge elsewhere.

Settling in Melkadida. On arrival at the camp, I met with the team - the Project Director, Administrator, and Youth Coordinator. Initially hosted by the International Rescue Committee (IRC), we were provided with tented accommodation and an office base to begin operations.

Later our team was enhanced by a Psychosocial Counselling Coordinator and an Architect.

In mid October, we were joined for a short time by other staff from the regional office and one of the JRS partners as we planned the groundwork for the project. Being part of a group in those early days strengthened our commitment.

Amazingly, soon after my arrival, and after years of dry seasons, the skies opened up and rained, saving the surviving animals from the agony of death. This almost felt like the seasonal launch of our new project.

Noting the impact. The impact of JRS's arrival in Melkadida refugee camp was felt as soon as the youth programme started. The young refugees hailed the arrival of JRS and became highly involved in the football and volleyball leagues.

JRS and the football field started to become their daily routine and the team on the ground felt a real sense of accompaniment.

The psychosocial programme quickly began supporting families distressed by the painful experience of civil war coupled with drought. The adult literacy classes, which commenced later, have been a big boost for many refugees previously denied the right to an education by years of war.

A one-year journey. The one-year journey in Dollo Ado has, despite its challenges, been a success story. JRS has recently completed the building of recreational facilities, office rooms, a skills training centre and a primary school. During July and August, the beneficiaries started using the facilities.

Already these buildings are making a difference. Office work and organisational processes are easier. The permanent structures provide a place for refugees to undertake activities indoors, away from the harsh heat of the day. The spirit and hope of the refugees has been improved as they congregate at the JRS centre, eager to make use of the new facilities.

For the staff, working and living conditions have changed a lot over the year. The recently completed JRS compound has helped in relieving staff from the challenging weather -; strong winds, extreme heat and frequent dust storms.

A satellite dish has connected the staff to the rest of the world. Plants in the compound have helped breathe life into an area where dry bushes can be seen all over.

Piped water feeds the compound and a flushing toilet eases life. Plastic covered showers have been replaced with permanent structures, allowing privacy and security when bathing.

JRS is with refugees at the heart of Melkadida, and the team that established this important project has left a legacy in a manner that respects refugees and the host community, bringing out the core values of JRS.

It has been a short time, but enormous experience has been gained and great achievements have been recorded. As we look towards year two, we are planning for increased accompaniment, service and advocacy for the refugees of Melkadida.

By Neway Alemayhu, Programmes Officer, JRS Ethiopia

JRS has been accompanying and serving refugees in Melkadida refugee camp, Dollo Ado, since October 2011 when the team arrived before the official launch in November. The project aims to help the massive numbers of Somali refugees who flooded to the camp to escape conflict, drought and poverty in their country. JRS is implementing comprehensive education and psychosocial programmes. Melkadida is one of five camps in Dollo Ado on the Somalia border, with a population of around 41,000 refugees. By the end of this year, JRS will have supported more than 12,500 refugees.