Global Field Ed Dispatches: Arriving in Kakuma, Kenya

This semester, Innovate@BCSW is following the experiences of four BC Social Work students who have embarked on international field education placements in Latin America, Europe, Asia, and Africa. This video diary and blog post comes from Fionna Fallon, who is working at Jesuit Refugee Services at the Kakuma Refugee Camp in Kenya.

A map of the Kakuma Camp posted outside of International Rescue Committee office in the NGO compound.

A map of the Kakuma Camp posted outside of the International Rescue Committee office in the NGO compound.

I arrived in Kakuma Refugee Camp on Weds., February 1st, through the luxury and privilege of air travel on a short UN Humanitarian Air Service flight from Nairobi. Prior to my arrival to Kakuma, I spent 10 days in Nairobi shadowing the social workers with my organization, Jesuit Refugee Services (JRS), who provided case management and emergency services for urban refugees. While in Nairobi, my fellow global classmate and I tearfully swallowed the news of the signing of the executive order “Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the U.S.” We now found ourselves as representatives of a country whose policies harmed the very refugees we intended to help serve. These are individuals and families who already idle years in Kenya waiting to be processed and considered as even refugees, let alone the 1% or so who are even selected for resettlement.

I felt the intense heat strike me after stepping off the plane. After collecting my luggage from a man-powered luggage cart, the JRS Kakuma team brought me to the Kakuma Camp Manager’s office, which processes camp permits for any non-refugees visiting the camp. Here, I found my first opportunity in Kakuma to discuss the new U.S. efforts to ban many refugees and immigrants. In the days that followed, I found myself, after declaring my nationality, propelled into inquiries on the socio-political happenings of the U.S.

Shortly after this introduction and approval of my camp permit, we went into the compound where a few of the non-governmental organization (NGO) workers reside (see video). The remaining NGO workers stay outside the camp mingling with the local Turkana residents. We quickly dropped off my luggage and went straight to JRS’s project centers. The camp consists of four sections – Kakuma 1, 2, 3 and 4. JRS has five education and community centers expanding all four sections of Kakuma.

A lunch of beans being prepared for the JRS staff.

A lunch of beans being prepared for the JRS staff.

JRS’s program here concentrates on providing support for persons (youth and adults) with cognitive and physical disabilities, tertiary education, counseling and psychosocial services, and emergency safe shelter for women and children survivors of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV). The staff consists of Kenya national staff, including a few from the local Turkana community, refugees coined as incentive workers (more on that later), and global volunteers such as myself. My role here focuses on supporting, and monitoring and evaluating the safe shelter and protection program for women, their children, and boys. There are two JRS shelters here – one called Safe Haven and the other Amani Center. Safe Haven houses women and their children, while the Amani Center only houses and supports boys typically over the age of ten and under the age of 18/19.

I’m slowly understanding and integrating myself into the work and climate here in Kakuma. But as has been repeated many times here in Kakuma by both Western and national staff, once I possibly gain my footing my time here will be up. So, my hope, for now, if even possible, is that I can assist the communities and staff here in crafting more durable programming and solution.

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