Posts Tagged ‘displaced’

A Week in Georgia: Commonweal Magazine Features Journal of CRS Response

Wednesday, August 27th, 2008

Laura Sheahen, CRS’ regional information officer for the Middle East and Europe, has been reporting on the emergency response by Caritas and Catholic Relief Services in Georgia. Her day-to-day reflections on the suffering she witnessed among the people displaced by the conflict have been published in Commonweal, a Catholic magazine on religion, politics and culture: A Week in Georgia: An Aid Worker’s Journal.

You can also read all of Laura’s Georgia posts on the CRS Blog:

Displaced Families in Georgia Are Falling Ill

Saturday, August 23rd, 2008

Laura Sheahen, a regional information officer with CRS, is on the ground in Georgia and reports on the plight of those displaced by the fighting. She can be reached at or

It’s the end of Week 2 of the Georgia crisis, and tens of thousands of displaced people are getting food. Many no longer have to fear hunger, at least for the short term. But a new enemy is moving in: sickness.

I spoke with one of two nurses working at School #39, where 300 people who fled their homes are now staying. “The conditions aren’t hygienic,” she says. Sharing the school’s showerless bathrooms, sleeping on the floor, and unable to wash properly, the shelter residents are succumbing to diarrhea and vomiting.

A boy sits in a shelter for Georgians who fled their homes amid bombs and shelling. Psychologists are worried about the long-term impact of the violence on children. Photo: Laura Sheahen/CRS

Catholic Relief Services is funding hygiene kits with basic, but crucial items like soap, laundry detergent, towels and toothpaste. At School #39, a small army of Caritas volunteers passes out diapers, toothbrushes, and more.

Local Georgians are aware of the health issue. A woman from the neighborhood of #39 stops by to tell the nurses that her daughter is a gynecologist, and is willing to visit the three pregnant women at the shelter.

Hygiene supplies and medicine will help improve people’s physical health. Healing emotional wounds, of course, isn’t as straightforward.

A woman in her 40s shows me her deep lower-abdominal scar, a sign of her battle with cancer. She weeps for her home and farm, nine miles outside of the disputed city of Tskhinvali. The house was burned, and because of the political situation, her family can probably never go back to the land. “People need to work, but what work can we do now? Our place is gone,” she says.

So the nurses at #39 don’t just listen to people describe symptoms of illness; they also listen to their stories. “Their relatives have been killed, their houses burned or looted,” says one nurse. “We sit and cry with them.”

Nearby, at a psychological care center in Tbilisi, a room of 15 people—Caritas volunteers and others—take notes as they’re trained in basic support to displaced people. Janna Javakhishvili, a psychologist there, tells me some of the stories she’s been hearing. A 24-year-old woman was grabbed and nearly abducted by another ethnic group in her hometown. She begged them to let her go, telling them she had a baby to care for. They didn’t kidnap her, but now she has flashbacks and nightmares about their attempt. Another man saw family members killed, and he buried their bodies before fleeing himself.

Dr. Jan Vorisek of the psych center says it’s important to help severely traumatized people quickly. If they don’t get help, their symptoms can morph into full-fledged post-traumatic stress disorder. “Most people are resilient,” he says. “But PTSD can become chronic—and can incapacitate people from functioning normally for a long time to come.”

After the training, the volunteers will go into 14 shelters and help traumatized people help themselves. The volunteers lead problem-solving groups that encourage displaced people to work together to improve shelter conditions. In one case, a group of residents figured out a way to wire their shelter for electricity. “Before they had no sense of control. Now they have a sense of self-sufficiency,” Dr. Javakhishvili says.

The volunteers will also work with children, encouraging them to be physically active, and to draw and role-play with toys. “If you ask them what happened to them during the conflict, they won’t be able to say anything,” says Dr. Vorisek. “But they will tell you what happened to the toy.”

Sharing sorrow is also important. The mental health staff say that simply showing support can be a great comfort to people who have lost everything. “When we talk to people in the shelters, we often hear the same thing,” says Dr. Javakhishvili. “They say, ‘If you cry with us, we feel better.'”

Clean Camps Improve Health in Kenya

Tuesday, April 29th, 2008

CRS continues to respond to the post-election crisis in Kenya. Recently, staff from CRS and the Catholic Diocese of Eldoret trained 18 volunteers to serve as hygiene promoters in camps in the Eldoret area of western Kenya. One volunteer, Milka Nyambura Kariuki, lives with 2,000 other displaced people in the Burnt Forest camp. Here she shares how she is working with other volunteers to teach residents about improving camp sanitation and personal hygiene:

Volunteer hygiene promoter Milka Nyambura Kariuki is helping her fellow residents improve sanitation in the camp they are living in after being displaced by the post-election violence in Kenya. Photo by Gilbert Namwonja/CRS

Here I educate community members on hygiene and how to keep our neighborhood clean. Eighteen of us were trained, and later on we divided ourselves into different hygiene promotion groups. I was placed in the hygiene education group. In our group, the activities that we carry out include educating people on how to keep their water containers clean, how to boil water and how to use latrines well.

We also trained people on how to wrap food well because of contamination by house flies. We were taught that house flies can cause diseases like diarrhea, vomiting and even headaches.

As a result of our activities, we have witnessed change in the camp. Our IDP camp has become very clean. For example, the other day we carried out house-to-house visits and saw that people’s water containers were clean, food was well wrapped, and they are keeping their surroundings clean all over. Even if you visit the water points, you will find that containers are very clean. Before our activities, people also used latrines poorly, but now they use them well.

I would like to praise Catholic Relief Services very much because I did not expect to receive such training. Now I have changed as a person, and I have become a good example to others, because we were trained to be models for them. Now they practice hygiene as required.

Although peace is now holding, 150,000 people displaced by earlier violence are still living in camps. An additional 130,000 are estimated to be living with friends or relatives, too scared to return home.