Concern Worldwide Kenya 2022


It’s my 47th birthday and I’m standing over the sun-hardened carcass of a camel, in an area outside Gus, in northern Kenya. 

The stench of rotting flesh has guided me here and I position myself upwind to avoid the overpowering malodor. I have seen dead animals before, but as I stare into the empty eye sockets of this creature, I realize that I am more profoundly affected this time, simply because it is a camel. 

The mighty camel, which has always represented for me the last bastion of the desert. The last one standing. The animal able to last for months without food and weeks without water. This once magnificent creature decomposing at my feet was unable to withstand a drought that has ravaged this region for the last three years. 

A few days earlier, I had landed in Nairobi to meet up with a team from Concern Worldwide before we headed north. As we set out on our six-hour journey to Marsabit, the weather caused me to mentally question the severity of this reported once-in-a-generation drought. Here in the capital city, it was cool and moist. “It’ll be very different where we’re heading,” I am told by Kieran, my Concern contact and friend. 

After a few hours on the road, his comment is confirmed. The landscape changes rapidly and somewhat eerily, from patches of green vegetation to dry rock and dirt, with temperatures jumping from 60° in Nairobi to over 100° in Marsabit. As if to drive the message home, herds of dust devils on either side of the road migrate across the land, lifting the arid desert into the warm air above.

The last time I was in Kenya with Concern Worldwide was 2018. “That’s probably the last time there was any substantial rain in some places,” Kieran informs me. “Since then, they’ve had four failed rainy seasons, and all signs are pointing to a fifth. Nobody here remembers that ever happening before.” 

Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the massive diversion of donations to that struggle, humanitarian funding for the Horn of Africa has dramatically 

dropped off, just as their troubles are spiraling to critical levels. The war in Eastern Europe has also caused huge logistical problems in securing emergency food supplies. 

As we continue north, I notice that each river we cross is so dry that, were it not for the signs stating the river’s name and location, I would never have known of its past existence. 

It is not always sunny however, and I regularly watch ominous clouds above us, seemingly ripe and ready to burst as they float cruelly by, refusing to share their much-needed wealth with the land below. A constant and harsh reminder of how close these people come to salvation, without ever receiving it.


Our first stop is a mobile clinic in Lengima, which serves about 300 households that are more than a15 mile walk away from any permanent health facility. Dozens of families converge from all around, gathering under the only tree large enough to offer shade. It’s an Acacia, still green mainly because of its long, trailing root system and hardy constitution.

We meet Narau and her 10-month-old daughter Ahadu, as the doctor measures the baby’s arm with a colored band. “Basically, green is good,” he says. “Yellow or red means malnourished or severely malnourished.” 

I peer over at the crying child and see the arrow has landed directly in between yellow and red. Narau tells us that she hasn’t eaten since yesterday. She generally allows herself one meal a day, but only if her children are fed. “I try to borrow food from other families, but they are in the same position as me,” she tells us. 

The doctor gives her supplemental treatment for the baby, a formula called “Plumpy Nut,” high in calories and essential nutrients. Narau admits however that, out of desperation, she usually shares it with her other children, putting Ahadu at risk of becoming immuno-compromised, due to further malnourishment. Here, children often die from simple ailments like diarrhea or respiratory infections, because of their weakened state. 

As she talks, Narau’s eyes are despondent and the words “no hope” and “hopeless” crop up several times in a conversation though our interpreter, Faith Atyang. “I used to worry about my animals dying,” Narau tells us, “but now we all worry about people dying.”



Not far away, Apteri stands in the corner of her now-empty goat enclosure and points to a small mound of sand, marked only by an empty medical IV drip. This is the only reminder of her two-week-old daughter, who she herself buried here two months ago. 

Mounting stress from her struggle to find food, and the anguish of selling her last remaining goat caused health complications, leaving Apteri unable to breast-feed her newborn baby. I asked her why she leaves the IV drip there. “Because it was the last thing my daughter was wearing,” she responds. 


About 30 miles away, we meet Koronto, who invites us in and explains that she used to have 150 goats, the majority of which died. The remaining few were sold many months ago at a rock-bottom price, because of their depleted condition. Koronto holds up two bowls, revealing no more than two cups’ worth of maize kernels and ground flour. 

“This is what I have to feed my seven children,” she says softly, unable to exert any energy from her frail body. “When we don’t have food, we just sleep. Sometimes we eat if there is a donation, but it goes quickly.” 

For a few moments she gazes silently at one of her daughters, sitting quietly in the corner of their tiny home. Then she looks back at us and says “I have given up hope of survival. There is no hope.” 

As we start to leave, she thanks us for coming. “May your family be blessed,” she says. Driving out of the village, I find myself replaying her parting blessing in my mind. How someone as desperate and hopeless as she still finds it in her heart to bless a fellow human being is deeply moving. We are all connected.


Chalgo, a tall man in a red shirt, sits at the edge of a large water pit which was once his responsibility to guard. Now the reservoir, which supplied water for all the surrounding communities, lies arid and empty under the Kenyan sun. Chief Mariam Lengure, the first woman leader ever elected here, tells us that it has been dry for three years now. 

“60% of our livestock has gone,” she says. “The majority of the remaining goats and the camels have been taken by the men to find pastures, further and further away. Any camels that were left here have been stolen by other desperate people.” 

I ask Chief Mariam who is left in these communities. 

“Since the men have gone, our communities are made up of old people, women, and babies. There is almost no food. The only water we are able to provide is from bore holes, but we have to pay for the fuel to pump up the water.” 

My momentary relief, to hear that there is at least some water, is immediately tempered. “But the only water we find is salty,” she continues. “We use it for cooking, bathing, and drinking.” 

I ask how salty water is even possible to drink. 

“It’s all we have,” she says, raising her hands. “We are used to it, but it makes us sick. We get rickets and diarrhea.” She looks past me at the dry, cracked hollow. Two women are standing where once there was an abundance of fresh water. “If no rain comes, I don’t know what we will do. These are our ancestral lands. We do not want to leave.”

As we drive to the next settlement, we pass two girls, each pulling a rolling jerrycan behind them. I ask if we can stop to talk and perhaps take their picture.

Maru and Marta are schoolgirls, and they have to make a two-hour round-trip every single day to collect salty water for the family. Every day. I shudder when I think of the ease and convenience of my kitchen faucet and the clean water it provides to my kids, on demand.


In South Horr we meet Francis, as he herds goats through a canyon next to his village. Yet this is no canyon. Instead, we learn that this is what remains of the once ripe River Horr. Fed by runoff from the surrounding hills, it had provided fresh water for the area for as long as anyone can recall. Now, it is now a 16ft deep scar across the land. 

“I have to walk my goats 20 miles every other day to find water,” Francis tells us. “I have sent the rest of my cows elsewhere with our 13-year-old sons to find pasture. Those animals are our only livelihood. If they die, we have nothing.” 

Francis tells us that they eat only once a day. I asked him about food prices, and he points to the heavens, “They are sky high.” 

Further down the rutted track that passes for a road here, near a village called Gus, we come across Antut and her daughter Watu, searching for firewood. Antut tells us that she used to have over 100 animals and that the last few camels have recently died.

“We beg family and friends,” Antut tell us, “but no one can help, so we search for firewood to sell it. Very few people buy.” And then I hear those words again: “There is no hope for us. Only God knows what will happen next.” 

As we take a photo of Antut and her daughter next to their recently deceased camel, a group of women walk past, carrying small sacks on their heads. Coincidentally, it turns out they have used cash donations from Concern to buy food at a nearby market. 

Simple as it may sound, it seems that providing money is often the most effective way of helping people. “There’s a system for sending funds by mobile phone and that’s what we use, once we have identified the households most in need,” Faith tells me. 

Koumwa, the matriarch of the group stares into my eyes, seemingly searching for some sort of comprehension from me of the severity of their situation. “This is the worst we have ever seen it. We have nothing left.”

That night, as the Concern team and I reflect on the day, the words “hope” and “faith” become a topic of debate, triggered by the fact someone in the group actually has one of those words as her name. I half-playfully put forward the question: “What’s the difference between Faith and Hope?” But it’s late and we’re tired, so the discussion gets left for another time.

The road to Lardanapash runs through what could only be described as a Martian landscape. Basketball-sized volcanic rocks litter the land, as if some prehistoric lava hailstorm had just passed through. 

Every 30 minutes or so, we spot a man or a child walking through this vast, empty landscape, and I try to understand what could possibly be here for them in such inhospitable surroundings. 

Eventually, we reach Lardanapash and see the first buildings for many miles, a small, faded town on the shores of the saltwater Lake Turkana. But our destination is further still, a desolate place on a rocky plateau, where the road literally come to an end. 

Here we find a small, ragged settlement of displaced families from the Turkana tribe. A grouping of small domiciles has been erected, each made from branches and covered with torn fabrics and old clothes. Ngitiro Kaloto is the group’s chair, a tall woman who exudes a leader’s confidence that belies her young age of twenty-three. She takes us inside her home and calmly tells us how they came to arrive here eight months ago. 

After the loss of their herd, they made the decision to move 20 miles from their highland home, to be closer to a settlement where they heard they might find help. “We sometimes receive a bag of maize flour, but it cannot feed everyone,” she laments.

Next door, Aliwo is boiling some berries over a small fire. “They’re poisonous,” she tells us. “I have to boil them ten times to make them safe to eat. The salty water makes it difficult to boil, but it’s all we have.” The small pot she stirs, contains no more than a few tablespoons, and represents two days of foraging. 

Faith asks Ngitiro if she has a message for us to take back home. 

“I want to thank you for coming here. No one has come to ask us how we are and if we are ok. I understand more why you are here, “she says, pointing to Faith, “but I don’t understand why a man with his skin color,” pointing at me, “comes all the way from his home to see us. Please tell him thank you and for him to ask his people to send any help they can and to please not forget us.” 

It’s clear to me that women are the ones holding everything together here, carrying the greatest burden of responsibility with all the odds stacked against them. Salt water. Small handfuls of flour for too many mouths. Burying young children. Traversing countless miles to find help, which will never be enough. And having to live with decisions no parent should ever have to make

Girls as young as ten are being given away as brides to men as old as sixty, in exchange for a dowry that is desperately needed to buy food for that girl’s starving siblings. In Kenya, marriage under the age of 18 is illegal, but it’s happening here, forced on many families by these devastating climatic circumstances. 

Meanwhile the brightest of the kids are not at school. They’re out in the drylands, living on their wits, as they seek pasture and water for whatever few animals a family might have left. Those who do go to classes rarely progress beyond elementary level, because it costs money and there’s none of that here.  


One rarely thinks of the mental and emotional anguish that drought and famine causes within families. In the global north, we only have time in our busy schedules to imagine empty stomachs but fail to ponder the life-destroying generational trauma that accrues to people living on the edge of existence. 

This is all compounded by the fact that the Horn of Africa is responsible for less than one percent of the emissions that accelerate climate change, yet the people here are first to feel the unforgiving wrath of its effects. 

As we leave the region and head towards Nairobi, to a hotel where the shower turns on and off at the flick of a switch, I return to the question about faith and hope. Some say hope is the soil in which we cultivate our faith. What I have seen and heard here — from some of the strongest and most resilient people on this planet — indicates to me that the well of hope has run dry and faith is running low. 


Maybe this is when charity becomes an imperative. If Koronto, who has almost nothing left but life itself, can find the strength to bless us, then surely we must find it within ourselves to return that blessing.