I want them to know they are not alone

    Adulkadir Adbullahi Muya - known by his colleagues simply as Muya - is in a hurry. He hardly has time for a handshake before he is off, his long stride occasionally forcing others to sprint to keep up.

    Muya is a paracounselor with CARE in the Dagahaley refugee camp in Dadaab, Kenya. He identifies people in his community who have experienced trauma, loss or violence, and handles initial consultations.

     

    'Every day, every day, I'm on the job, ' he says. As a refugee 'incentive' worker - one of the nearly 2,200 residents employed by CARE at the Dadaab refugee camps - Muya has been working as a paracounselor for a little over a month. His job is to visit clients in his community, direct them to services and offer a supportive ear. With 1,400 refugees arriving every day, there are plenty of people who need to be heard. He is on his way to CARE's drop-in center at the Dagahaley influx area, a satellite for CARE's counseling office. Here, new arrivals who have experienced trauma, loss, violence or sexual assault can visit with counselors.

     

    Paracounselors like Muya are specially trained, identifying the most vulnerable and handling initial consultations. He walks this route several times a day. Right now he is headed to meet a new client, identified by a CARE community mobilizer. A bus was hijacked on the journey from Somalia to Dadaab. Women were raped; people were burned. The details are fuzzy but he knows it's serious. His pace quickens, his fingers furiously texting, always working, even as he walks. He briefly turns, 'Dagahaley is growing and growing,' outstretched arms for emphasis. Indeed, it is. The population of Dadaab has more than doubled in just three years.

    A resident of Dadaab since 1991, Muya went back to Somalia in 1997 and, after nearly a decade, returned once again, this time bringing his mother. He works with an unceasing determination, often skipping lunch to squeeze in one just more visit. His pride in serving his clients comes through in his stance. Sweat beads on his brow in the intense heat, making him resemble a musician just finished with a high-energy performance. In many ways, Muya is a rock star.

    On the way to the drop-in center, Muya makes a detour to visit an elderly refugee woman, sitting on a mat outside her mud hut. Her eyes are blank  -  she is blind. A lump grows in her neck glands; multiple hospital visits have offered no answers. Muya asks how she's doing. Is she in pain, does she need him to make any calls?

    'Sometimes I just stop by to say hello,' Muya says. One man is in constant pain from a cancerous tumor enveloping the back of his head. His only option is chemotherapy, which he can't afford. 'I don't want him to lose hope,' says Muya, who visits the man every day or two. 'Maybe one of these days, if I keep referring him to different doctors, reaching out to different people, someone can help him. Until then, I'll keep listening. I want him to know he hasn't been forgotten.'

    As he speaks, another woman walks up, complaining of constant headaches and vision problems. She'd heard that Muya could help. Muya smiles. 'Every day, you get a new client.' He jots down her information and refers her to the medical center before he is off again. People stop him at least six times on his way to the drop-in center.

    The sun is fading, and the drop-in center is still far, so Muya makes a call to change plans: he'll finally meets his scheduled client at her home, near his own block in Dagahaley. As he makes his way to the woman's house, her family surrounds her. She lifts her dress, revealing a painful and hideous wound, where a group of men covered her with paraffin and firewood and set her on fire. It was her punishment for resisting rape.

    Muya with the some of the refugees (including a client, bottom left) with whom he interacts with regularly, not only as a paracounselor for CARE, but as their neighbor and fellow refugee

    After her bus was hijacked, women were brought into a nearby forest and raped  -  in her case, while her husband watched helplessly. The hijackers stole the bus, so the other refugees had to carry the women to Dadaab. Luckily - if you could call anything in Dadaab that - her daughter was here and had a mud house to offer. The woman and her husband visited the hospital, but they couldn't afford the recommended procedure, just pain pills and topical cream. That was two weeks ago. Yesterday, CARE counselors met with the men who were hijacked, today the women. They needed to talk through the horror they had witnessed.

     

    'I still feel the pain,' she said, 'Like my skin is on fire.' When Muya asks her about her other pain, the pain that will remain after her legs heal, she tells him, 'I've accepted what has happened to me. What is disturbing me is my wound, my physical pain. If I can get treatment, and I can't see the scar, I will be able to forget about it.'

    In a world where violence, loss and death are everyday realities, this may be true. But Muya will not forget. He promises his colleagues will follow up and ensure that the woman receives both the physical and psychological care she desperately needs.

    Muya and the woman part ways. Nightfall is approaching quickly and he wants to get in one more visit. He shouts his goodbyes from over his shoulder; as always, he is in a hurry.


     

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