Japanese actress highlights refugee plight at Kenya camp
DADAAB, Kenya, Jan 25 (UNHCR) - Top Japanese actress Rei Kikukawa has appealed for more assistance to the children and refugees of Kenya's Dadaab camp during a recent visit to raise awareness of their plight among the Japanese public.
Kikukawa, 26, visited Dadaab refugee camp in north-eastern Kenya for four days last week with a team from Nippon Television Network Corporation, one of the leading Japanese TV stations.
"I have come here to spend time with you and learn what your problems are, so that I can go home and share the information with people in Japan," she said when a refugee boy asked why she was visiting.
"The timing of this visit is quite important," said Toshiro Odashima, who heads UNHCR's office in Dadaab. "It comes at a time when world attention has shifted to Asia after the recent tsunami disaster. I hope Rei's presence here will remind the Japanese and the world of continued needs in places like Dadaab."
During her visit, Kikukawa spent time with Somali refugee Fatuma and her family in Ifo, one of the three camps that together host more than 240,000 refugees in Dadaab. She struggled to control her tears as Fatuma, 39, recounted how she witnessed her brothers being murdered in Mogadishu before she fled to Kenya.
"It was early morning when the militia raided my home and I saw them kill my two brothers. I screamed and they started shooting at me," said Fatuma, crying as she held her two-year-old daughter, Hafsa. "I collapsed on their bodies. I could not think of anything until my neighbours came and asked me to flee with them. I was so traumatised, I could not even remember my name."
At Fatuma's home, Kikukawa helped with household chores like washing dishes and picking beans, and joined the family for breakfast the following day.
She also toured Midnimo primary school, where she helped serve porridge and held a lengthy discussion with the students, some of whom appealed for scholarships to study in Japan.
"I saw children playing soccer and they were so energetic," she said afterwards. "I asked them to draw their homeland and they drew pictures of guns. I was shocked."
In Hagadera camp, Kikukawa visited some of the refugees who have lived in Dadaab since 1991. At a health and nutrition hospital, she met children suffering from different diseases, including malaria and malnutrition. She talked to their parents, who told her about some of the challenges they encountered in the camp.
"The whole world has a responsibility to help these children," Kikukawa told Hawa Sheik Mohamed, whose child was suffering from acute malnutrition.
At Friends primary school, she joined children as they recited poems and sang songs of peace. "Take me to my country, the country that I love, the country where I want to sleep," sang a young Sudanese girl, as she and her friends danced with Kikukawa.
"We hope she will send a message to the Japanese and other friends to help us with food and medicine," said Mohamed Ali Harbi, the chairman of Ifo camp.
Stopping in Nairobi at the end of her trip last Thursday, Kikukawa shared her experience in Dadaab with the UNHCR Representative in Kenya, George Okoth-Obbo. He thanked her for thinking about the refugees in Kenya and urged her to visit again: "It is wonderful and humbling that someone so busy should find time to come here, to use her renown, her artistry, her presence just to bring some joy into what is undoubtedly a hard life for many of the people here."
By Emmanuel Nyabera