Normal life in abnormal times: Living in Dadaab refugee camp during a pandemic

 Emergency Response
 7th May 2020

Photos of Muridi Zuberi, CARE Kenya

25 year old Muridi Zuberi is the first born of seven children, originally from Lower Juba, Somalia. He first arrived in Kenya in 2004 with his uncle. Muridi is married with a one and half month old baby. 

My name is Muridi Zuriberi from Dadaab - Dagahaley refugee Camp in northern Kenya. Before the outbreak of COVID-19, it was normal to see people interacting with each other; shaking hands and the streets were full with people who were involved in a range of business. Now, things have completely changed. Concerns over health mean the status of hygiene and sanitation have improved to some extent. Social and physical distance is now observed, handshaking is no longer a norm for fear of contracting the potentially deadly COVID-19. A lot of people used to go to the markets to conduct business, but due to the virus COVID-19 no non-essential movement is allowed. People are no longer able to go to Masjids, Madrasas, or churches, and celebrations like weddings have stopped for fear of contamination.  

Before the pandemic we were free to interact with others and conduct our daily activities without fear. As a Muslim, if a person sneezed we used to thank God for their good health, but now sneezing is seen as a problem and the moment you do it people start running away from you. Neighbours no longer visit each other, and our society has been completely distracted by the threat of this disease. In order to protect ourselves and our loved ones we have to be careful while conducting our daily life so that we can be safe.  

What worries me most is the way the disease kills. When I listen to the news around the globe a lot of lives are being lost daily. And this is amongst people who have got everything they need in life, but still the disease plays its part. My biggest worry is what happens if it reaches this camp, where there are not enough health care facilities to cope. The majority of the people in the camp live below the poverty line and there is a need for mass awareness to educate the refugees on the COVID-19 disease, which globally has already claimed more than 170,000 lives. If COVID-19 reaches Dadaab, it is going to be a big problem and increase the challenged for people already living in extreme poverty.  

Hand washing is now routine for everyone in my family and we make sure there is always water and soap at the washroom to ensure that everyone is free from contamination.  

The pandemic has already really affected my livelihood. I used to work as a casual labourer, but now I am jobless due to the COVID-19 virus. We have to stay at home according to the government directives on the pandemic. Life has become really hard. Businesses are collapsing so even getting basic need items has become hard. We are now forced to adjust to a situation where people can only have two meals a day instead of three. We need more water which is safe for domestic use and more public awareness around the disease and measures to be taken in case one is infected. Ideally, we should be provided with protective gear such as a face mask. We should also have quarantine centres to isolate those suspected with the virus.  

My greatest hope is to survive this pandemic and protect my family from the virus. God willing this disease will one day come to an end and life will go back to normal. What makes me feel safe is staying at home with my family and avoiding too much interaction with people, and making sure that my family and I practise proper hygiene practices at home and try not to spread the disease. 

My message to the world is please let stay at home. This might help reduce the spread of the disease and save lives. It is time for us as humans to keep ourselves safe and to save others. This is a war that needs to be fought with unity and strength and this can only be achieved by following the rules and regulations given by our health professionals. Be safe in order to save others; our lives matter a lot. 



Dadaab refugee complex is home to approximately 234,182 refugees. CARE works in all 3 occupied camps (Dagahaley, Ifo and Hagadera)  

CARE’s COVID-19 response: 

  • CARE is using the already existing wash community structure at the household level to sensitize beneficiaries on safe hygiene and sanitation practices to ensure each beneficiary is observing the guidelines on COVID-19 prevention. Across the three camps 16,700 individuals previously trained before COVID-19 pandemic are acting as an ambassador at their respective household level on safe hand washing practices. 
  • CARE has also increased water pumping hours in the 3 camps where it works (with help of UNHCR) in order to increase the available supply of clean water for handwashing and domestic/household use. CARE also has repair teams working to fix broken pumps and water pipes.  
  • In collaboration with Film Aid CARE is sharing awareness raising messages through the camp radio – Radio Gargar - and SMS blasts to refugees. 
  • CARE alongside other agencies in the camp and with Government approval has identified three sites (primary schools that are currently shut due to lockdown measures) to serve as quarantine centers. CARE renovated 133 latrines, constructed 30 new bathrooms, 9 hand washing stations and44 tap stands in the newly established quarantine centers.  
  • CARE has also set up 45 handwashing stations in the three food distribution points (15 per camp) where CARE, in partnership with WFP, carries out monthly food distributions to refugees. However, in light of the coronavirus refugees were provided with 2 months’ supply of food ratio during the month of April 2020. 
  • As of 1st April, CARE has also begun a 2-month soap distribution in the three camps of Ifo,Dagaheley and Hagadera (in collaboration with UNHCR). Each refugee household is given an increased amount of soap - 500g per month instead of the normal 250g, in order to address the handwashing challenges, and help promote proper hand washing practice. 
  • In order to safely continue its regular food distributions, CARE has also increased the number of distribution days from 7 to 13. This is because of application of appropriate crowd control measures and social distancing methods with thermos-scans and protective gear such as masks, gloves and hand sanitizers. (This has been made possible with the help of WFP/UNHCR/ECHO) 
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