In Kenya, violence that began shortly after elections in December is blamed for the deaths of more than 1,000 people and the displacement of 600,000 others. Many who fled their homes now live in church compounds, police stations and other locations across the country. Cathy Majtenyi visited several displaced persons camps and filed this report for VOA.
Alice Muthoni recalls the night she was forced to flee her home in the Rift Valley of western Kenya, leaving everything behind.
"We were told that the attackers were on their way coming to our place about 3 p.m," she recalled. "Right away we took our children and ran away, praying so that they did not reach us. We saw them from some distance, so we just ran away."
The mother of four now lives in a compound in Molo town. Her children are staying in other locations, and she does not know the whereabouts of some family members.
Muthoni is one of hundreds of thousands of Kenyans who fled their homes during the violence that swept across their country following the December 27 elections.
The violence initially focused on the elections results. Many accuse Mwai Kibaki and his Party of National Unity of rigging the elections in their favor at the expense of the Orange Democratic Movement, led by Raila Odinga.
But people caught up in the chaos say the violence is also ethnic-based, with certain groups burning and destroying the homes and businesses of other groups in tensions that date back to colonial times.
The result is deserted farmlands, hunger, disease, family breakdown and a widespread feeling of despair.
This is starkly evident in places such as the Jamhuri Showground in the capital Nairobi. Thousands of people have been living there in cowsheds and other buildings since the violence erupted.
Among the worst affected are children and youths. Many are traumatized by the bloodshed they have witnessed and the abuse they have suffered.
They are not able to return to school, largely because their classrooms are in shambles or their homes, destroyed.
Joyce Moraa, 16, is in Grade 10. She says her family is destitute,
"Even our donkeys and cows that they [the family] could sell and get money to pay for me, were stolen, all of them," she said.
Thousands of people are returning to their ancestral villages.
Sarah Peter has lived in the Rift Valley town of Nakuru in western Kenya for 20 years. She says she and her family face an uncertain future because they feel threatened there.
"People [and their things] have been destroyed, burning houses, some were being killed, some have been thrown away," she said.
Both national and international aid agencies have jumped in to deal with the crisis, with the Kenya Red Cross leading humanitarian efforts.
Secretary-General of the Kenya Red Cross Abbas Gullet says his agency so far has been able to feed, clothe and house the displaced, but a longer-term approach is needed.
"We could look at three months to six months where you are going to help people in this whole post-election recovery period, where it is about going back to their farms. They are looking for seeds and tools, shelter and reconstruction and rehabilitation," he said.
Aid workers, camp residents and Kenyans in general are calling for an end to the violence.
Many hope that, with a negotiated political settlement, the nation can then concentrate on healing and moving forward.