Praying for Paradise: Eid al-Fitr in a Refugee Camp

09/02/2011 12:44 pm ET | Updated Nov 02, 2011

By Chee Chee Leung, Media Coordinator at Oxfam Australia, in Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya

For most Muslims around the world, this week's Eid al-Fitr holiday, which marks the end of Ramadan, was a time for celebration.

But for refugees I met in Dadaab, it was just another week of survival. Many said that given their daily struggles, there was no celebration, only prayers for a better future.

Katuma, a mother of seven living in one of the Ifo extension camps in Dadaab, said, "We only go to pray, but there are no celebrations, because life is difficult. We ask God for peace in our country."

Back in their homeland of Somalia, Katuma and her family were pastoralists, but the lack of rain killed all their livestock.

The drought, and the ongoing conflict, forced them to leave their home -- a five-week journey on foot.

They moved to the Ifo extension camp less than two weeks ago, having spent their first nine months in Dadaab at the Dagahaley camp.

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Katuma with one of her children

Across the three camp extension sites at Dadaab -- Ifo II, Ifo III and Kambioos -- Oxfam is currently reaching more than 32,000 people with essential water and sanitation work, and helped nearly double that figure since July.

This includes building communal toilets, installing tapstands and supplying clean water.
Among those Oxfam is helped is Norta, a mother of nine children, who traveled from Somalia on foot for 20 days to get to Dadaab.

Even though she's left the conflict behind in Somalia, getting through each day is still a challenge. Eid is often an opportunity to share gifts or buy children presents, such as new clothes. But for Norta, the Eid holiday this year was no different from any other day.

"We don't have things for surviving. I celebrated the Eid holiday with problems, not clothes."

Ramadan, the month of fasting, is a time of self-discipline and spiritual reflection. But it's also a time when empathy for those less fortunate is encouraged, and when charity becomes even more important than usual.

Ramadan has now ended. But I hope that the spirit of giving that it encourages can continue and that more help is available to those affected by the food crisis across East Africa.

When I spoke with Shamsa, a 28-year-old mother of two at the Ifo III camp, about her Eid wish, she said she was "asking to go to paradise."

We might not be able to deliver on paradise, but we can try to help people like Shamsa, Norta and Katuma rebuild their lives, so that when future Eids are marked, they may have something to celebrate.

Click here to learn more and to donate to Oxfam Australia.

Follow Chee Chee Leung on Twitter @cheechee_l.