Refugees receive support at Melkadida refugee camp on the border of Ethiopia and Somalia in 2011, Dollo Ado, Ethiopia (Angelika Mendes/JRS)
Dollo Ado, 17 October 2012 – The deeper we travelled towards the southeastern Ethiopian-Somali border, the hotter it became. Our tents became excruciatingly hot during the day; and when it rained, they flooded. This was the challenging reality of a Jesuit Refugee Service team member in Melkadida camp when the Dollo Ado project first began operations in November 2011.

A year ago, Dollo Ado was on the front pages of newspapers and headlining on major TV channels. The drought, ravaging the Horn of Africa, hit Somalia particularly hard, leading to an influx of Somali refugees, mainly to Kenya and Ethiopia.

The crisis captured the attention of millions around the world and humanitarian agencies started arriving to work in the refugee camps located within the common border triangle of Somalia-Kenya-Ethiopia.
In early October 2011, I headed to Dollo Ado to assist in the process of setting up the new JRS project. After three days travelling by road from Addis Ababa, I arrived in the remote town of Dollo Ado, a few kilometres away from the Somalia border.

The long trip was an adventure with rough, dusty, hilly roads and arid weather conditions. As we got closer to the drought-affected areas, it was heart-breaking to see animal carcasses lying on road sides, abandoned by their owners as they sought refuge elsewhere.
Amazingly, soon after my arrival, the skies opened up and rained, saving the animals from the agony of death. This almost felt like the seasonal launch of our new project.

A one-year journey. The impact of the JRS youth programme was felt immediately. Young refugees, with little to occupy their days, became highly involved in the football and volleyball leagues. JRS activities and regular football games quickly became part of their daily routine, and our team felt a real sense of accompaniment.

Soon afterwards, the psychosocial programme began supporting families distressed by experiences of civil war and forced exile. Then, JRS developed adult literacy classes to boast the confidences and skills of many refugees previously denied the right to an education by years of war.

Working without permanent shelter from strong winds, extreme heat and frequent dust storms was a constant challenge.

The recently completed JRS complex – equipped with running water and satellite dish – has not only helped to relieve these challenges, they have allowed the team to operate more efficiently.

The completion of recreational facilities, a training centre and a primary school is already making a difference in the lives of refugees. The mood of the refugees has been improved as they congregate at the JRS centre, eager to make use of the new facilities.

It has been a short time, but our experiences and recorded achievements have proved valuable.  As we look towards year two, we are planning for increased accompaniment, service and advocacy for the refugees of Melkadida.

Melkadida is one of five camps in Dollo Ado on the border of Somalia. Of the 41,000 refugees who reside there, JRS will have supported more than 12,500 by the end of this year.

Neway Alemayhu, JRS Ethiopia Programmes Officer