Anita Laipnieks is watching the explosions and gunfire at Westgate mall in Nairobi with special interest — she’s supposed to be heading to Kenya in just a couple of weeks as part of a paramedics relief effort.
Laipnieks is part of Medics Help, a non-profit group of paramedics from around the GTA that have been going to Kenya since 2009 to provide aid and hold medical day camps. Her group is set to leave on Oct. 6 for three weeks- timing that might now land them in the middle of a violent terrorist outbreak.
She says the need for medical help in the region is “vast.”
'We as an organization are monitoring the situation very closely.' -Medics Help's Anita Laipnieks
“Some communities literally don’t have any running water and I’m stepping over a stream of sewage. Some of these people don’t have anything,” the Hamilton paramedic said. “Some people wake up in the morning and they don’t know if they’re going to eat that day. Their biggest thing is ‘how am I going to feed my kids, how am I going to get through the day?’”
“Every little bit goes so far when we go there.”
'You can't help anyone if you're dead'
Kenya's national police service said Monday that officers have regained control of the mall in Nairobi where al-Qaeda-linked militants launched a savage attack Saturday, killing a reported 62 people, including two Canadians.
The CBC's Nahlah Ayed, who is in the capital of Kenya, tweeted that more blasts and gunfire could be heard from the Westgate mall Monday morning, several hours after a daybreak assault by military personnel.
“When I first heard about it, it took my breath away,” Laipnieks said. “I’ve been glued to the news for the last 48 hours. It’s devastating.”
She says that the attack “doesn’t deter her at all” from going — if anything, it has motivated her even more to help people in the region.
But at the same time, she needs to keep the safety of her team of seven people in mind, too. “We have this saying — you can’t help anyone if you’re dead,” she said. “So we as an organization are monitoring the situation very closely.”
Kenya's military and police tweeted that they "dominated all floors" of the mall and that two of the attackers had been killed, though the CBC's Ayed said there was no immediate indication outside the mall that an end to the standoff had occurred.
Police tweeted that more than 200 civilians had been rescued and more than 10 people arrested.
The Kenyan Defence Forces said on Twitter that 11 soldiers were injured in the battle, but that the chances of any attackers "sneaking and escaping" were slim.
A dire need
Laipnieks says she can’t stop thinking about friends who live in the region. “It hits so close to home for a lot of people,” she said.
Medics Help’s goal is to send two medical teams a year to Kenya. Volunteers go to slums, shanty towns and orphanages in the Nairobi region to host medical day camps.
The group contacts local partners, nurses and pharmacists before going to find out what their biggest needs are. This time, Medics Help will be bringing antibiotics because infections and digestion issues like chronic diarrhea are rampant, Laipnieks says.
They’re also bringing reusable sanitary pads for young women so that they can stay in school.
“These girls aren’t able to go to school a quarter of the time because of their cycle,” she said. “This way they’re able to stay in school and stay on track with their education and hopefully have a better future.”
These may seem like small things, she says, but there is a dire need for them. “As paramedics we have all this equipment on our trucks and we have access to hospitals a couple of minutes away. It’s really difficult to see these people when you’re down there that don’t have anything.”
“We’re so safe here in Canada. It’s so easy to take our lives for granted here.”