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Children bearing brunt of Kenya violence

  • Story Highlights
  • Around 100,000 Kenyan children have lost homes in post-election violence
  • Approximately 13,700 people living in makeshift camp
  • Sanitation is dire with children living among livestock
  • Kenyans fearful that new peace deal may not guarantee safety
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By Carolyn Watt
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NAIROBI, Kenya (CNN) -- Save the Children's Carolyn Watt sends this dispatch from Kenya and describes how children are the real victims of the post-election violence. Many have been witness to or victims of attacks and abuse, and 100,000 children are now living in makeshift camps.

"Mzungu,Mzungu," they cry. "How are you?, How are you?". Children en masse jostle to touch my skin. Many of them have never seen a white person before. They stare utterly bemused at the difference between their black and my pink skin.

Around 100,000 children are living in camps after violence erupted post-elections in Kenya.

Around 100,000 children are living in makeshift camps after violence erupted post-elections in Kenya.

I ask them "Why are you here?" They have mud caked faces. Shoeless feet. Manchester United football shirts. They have quizzical, deep brown eyes and the look of someone who has seen too much.

"Men burnt down my home," they tell me. "They chased us out." There are a thousand stories of men - sometimes up to 200 at a time - who have come to these children's farms over the last month, sometimes by day, sometimes by night. Some carried guns, others bows and poisoned arrows and machetes. Most carried burning torches and all had hate and destruction in mind.

Almost all of these children knew their tormenters. They were their neighbors, people with whom they had lived in peace since the last ethnic riots in 1992. They will list the names of the men who came for them - one by one.

Some have lost mothers, fathers (some both), sisters, brothers and cousins. Most have lost their homes, businesses and farms and everything they owned. They have no where to go. Across the Rift Valley I hear stories from children tortured by memories of rape, murder, burning, beatings and wide scale looting.

Save the children is working in Nairobi and the Rift Valley to set up safe play areas where children of all ages and ethnicities can play, read and learn together in safety. It is also training teachers on how to support children who have witnessed violence.

Approximately 13,700 people still live in this makeshift camp at the Tarbo Field Unit near Eldoret in Kenya's Rift Valley. Most are Kikuyu but there are also people here from Kalenjin, Kisi, Luhya and Luo tribes.

All have been driven out of their homes, farms and businesses by the post-election violence which has claimed the lives of at least 1,000 people and left 600,000 people displaced. The numbers are almost impossible to quantify.

There are 854 children registered as living here. But the population is so transient there is no way of accurately recording and keeping track of this damaged diaspora.

Access to water here is limited. Sometimes families have no running water for three days at a time. Food is short. Sanitation is dire with children living among livestock - cows, chickens, ducks and goats -- and playing in the same patch of sun scorched earth that men use as a night time latrine.

There is some relief for these children. In the safe play area, children of all ages and all ethnicities are careering around, kicking balls and chasing each other. The noise is reassuringly loud. In the field, the vicious divides that have destroyed communities seem to be forgotten.

The children I meet recognize differences - black and white, and tribal. But they show no sign of bearing grudges here.

However the ethnic rifts created by the violence are felt deeply amongst the adults.

I meet Kalenjin sisters, Nellie and Ann. Both are married to Kikuyu men and were branded traitors by their Kalenjin neighbors. Both families have lost all their material possessions. "They told us we are Kikuyu now. Our blood is tainted. They told us we must leave," said Nellie, mother of six. They have no where to go and they can't stay on this land - especially when the April rain comes. Their family is all here in Tarbo - 13 children and seven adults living under one makeshift shelter.

"How can we go home? How can we live with these people again? They betrayed us - our own people. They are the enemy now. We forgave them the last time [in 1992] but not again."

They tell me that they will never let their own daughters and sons marry outside their tribes.

"How can I let the people who killed my father and my cousin marry my daughter?"

People here are tired of the violence -- and of the talks in Nairobi which are still not bringing them the stability they desperately crave. They just want to go back to their farms, their businesses and their homes.

Now that a peace deal has been signed between President Kibaki and opposition leader Raila Odinga, the people in the camp fear that the areas they fled from could still be hostile. There is also no guarantee that their lives will not be at risk from those from whom they originally sought to escape.

But despite the trauma of the past and the fear for the future, and while it may be true that it will take generations for these people to forget, everyone I meet is full of hope -- for peace, for a better life.

Helena Mwangi, a Nandi who was chased from her home because her husband is a Kikuyu, tells me that Kenyans are taught to forgive.

"We can't go home but we will always stay together. If I left my husband I could go home. But we are a family. We love each other; No one can take that away." E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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