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'It was like the surface of the moon'

26 July 08 16:16 GMT

David Grimason's toddler son Alistair was shot dead as he lay sleeping in his pushchair in a Turkish cafe in 2003.

Two years ago, Mr Grimason and wife Ozlem travelled to East Africa with Oxfam to see the devastation caused by illegal weapons.

Here, he reflects on his memories of the trip as photojournalist Nick Danziger's images again focus the spotlight on famine-ravaged Ethiopia.

"Nick Danziger's disturbing photographs earlier this week showing the crisis in East Africa brought back memories of my trip to that part of the world two years ago.

Like Nick, my wife Ozlem and I travelled with Oxfam to find out what was happening there and to look at the work Oxfam was doing.

What was apparent was even in "good times" life is a daily struggle for people.

The part of Africa we visited was Turkana in Northern Kenya only a few miles from the Ethiopian border.

It is difficult to reach, hot and the land is very arid. Our journey took us along a large track that went on for miles and looked like the surface of the moon.

We later found out it had once been a river. Water is a precious commodity in Northern Kenya and not something people take for granted.

During the dry season people often collected water from hand-dug wells in dry riverbeds.

The water from traditional wells can be dirty water causing diseases, diarrhoea and skin rashes.

Just prior to our trip, there had been a serious food crisis in the region. Nomadic herding communities were most vulnerable, with more than 70% of the animals on which they depended already dead in many areas.

The land makes it difficult to grow anything and the balance between success and failure is finely balanced. The situation meant that lives, like now, were at risk if they did not receive emergency assistance.

By the time that we arrived in the area the crisis had been averted, however the aftermath was all too visible.

There may not officially have been a crisis but people were still hungry and it was clear that finding food and having enough to eat was an ongoing struggle.

During our stay some of the local boys would come round to where we were staying, curious about who we were and why we were there. They would have a biscuit and tell us about themselves. Education was hugely important to them.

Most of these boys had started school but had to drop out and in of the education system due to lack of money, because of illness or loss of a parent.

Despite all these setbacks they all wanted to complete their schooling and get jobs.

Being a teacher or a driver were popular choices when we asked what they wanted to do when they had finished school.

We were deeply moved by their ambition and their desire to get on under what are hugely difficult circumstances.

When I heard about the current situation in East Africa my thoughts immediately turned to people that I met on my trip.

The boys that came round to talk to us, I ask myself if their education once more had to be put on hold because they were struggling to get by on a day-to-day level?

Oxfam staff in Turkana work amazingly hard and their success within the community has made it possible for them to make great strides in trying to address the problems that local people are facing.

But almost five years of continuous drought has increased demand on the amount of people needing help.

Oxfam staff tell me they are helping over 200,000 people in Northern Kenya and as well as many more people throughout East Africa. But the fear is that unless emergency assistance is put in place then millions of people could be at risk.

I would ask people to donate to Oxfam's work in East Africa by going to and help Oxfam reach those who need it most.


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