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Perspectives from the Field: From Hardship to Leadership in Tigray

Liat Rennert, Humanitarian Program Manager

As we walked into ‘Kesanet’ shelter, one of 22 shelters established in Mekele to house internally displaced people, everything was already set up. A large room was cleared out, popcorn and coffee were being prepared and people were already seated around small school desks. Some were talking to each other; some were reviewing the notes they had prepared to make sure they hadn’t missed any points. They know how important the meeting is, and they know the responsibilities which rest on their shoulders. They are there to represent their community, and they are proud to do so.

Millions are currently affected by a severe humanitarian crisis in the northern region of Ethiopia, with tens of thousands seeking refuge in the regional capital of Mekele. Our team on the ground has been responding to the crisis since December and was one of the first to respond to the influx of internally displaced people (IDPs) into the city. To meet the new needs on the ground, NALA and our partners have mobilized and distributed water, food, and personal items to IDP shelters that seem to lack almost every basic amenity imaginable. But beyond just providing materials to the displaced community, our team has been able to provide something much more significant-- a voice. In early January we set out to establish management committees in each of the IDP shelters in town. What started as a necessity, to be able to define a leader who can provide accurate and up to date data about the residents of the shelter, soon turned into something much more significant- giving people back the power they had lost since the humanitarian crisis began. Our team member Yirga Gebregziahber, who initiated these committees, explained: “Our goal was to empower the IDPs to take leadership, to give them a sense of control, to allow for experience sharing between shelters and to have a well-structured way of both collecting comprehensive data about the shelter population and more importantly- knowing what their most pressing needs are and how we can best help." Siye Solomon, the leader of one of the 22 shelters in Mekele, shared his thoughts on the impact that these management committee meetings have had on him and his community: “Before we started this structure, every shelter was fending for itself. There was no organized way to discuss our concerns, no way of knowing how things are being done elsewhere. We were struggling to get by. I was also not sure which information I should be collecting in my shelter.” Siye added that now: “There are still big gaps in provision of basic necessities, but since we began gathering weekly, I am much better able to advocate for my people and convey our needs. This way I know I am at least being heard, and support has increased.”

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