Kenya: I have discovered myself by accompanying refugees
26 November 2012

A group of school children at the Kakuma Refugee Camp in Kenya. (Katie Allan/JRS)
The camp was not the way I expected; I had imagined people living in tents and mud/cow dung houses.
Kakuma, 26 November 2012 - On my first arrival in Lodwar I was met with a culture shock. The hot weather made my first experience even worse; but then I saw people waving and I thought "thank God there are people here for us". The welcome I got made it slightly easier for me to cope, "this would be an interesting and a strong team to work with", I thought. The camp was not the way I expected; I had imagined people living in tents and mud/cow dung houses. To my dismay, instead of being bitter and angry at their situation, the people had a strong will despite having a lot to bear. I believe the counselling offered by JRS has helped them through their sharing of issues.

My name is Cathy Mkamburi. I joined JRS on 5th July 2012 as an Assistant Coordinator in the Counselling Department of the JRS Kakuma project. I hold a Bachelors Degree in Counselling Psychology in addition to having a Higher Diploma in Counselling Psychology. Prior to joining JRS, I worked for International Organisation for Migration (IOM) and also volunteered my services to the Kenya Red Cross Society during the 2007/2008 post-election violence in Eldoret.

Entitlement to human rights. Working with refugees. I experienced a new beginning, having been granted an opportunity to work with refugees; a challenge that is unique in its nature to me. This novel experience is based on the creation of a long lasting relationship, capable of bringing a positive impact to refugees with the hope of sharing their dreams and also learning from their experiences - as I have always wondered how they managed to be so strong.

This being the first time I have been away from my family, I missed many events but their extended support gives me the strength to go on. The JRS team is accommodating, supportive and we manage to stay and work together. Someone said to me, "I'm shocked you lasted two weeks", and I replied, "it is because of the team".My friends back at home are equally surprised because they understand how difficult life is here; my secret lies in the supportive nature of the JRS staff and incentive workers. Moreover, the fact that there is always someone who needs my service gives me an impetus to wake up in the morning.

Entitlement to human rights. Journey of self discovery. Each day has been a lesson for me. I've been nourished by new faith, wisdom, hope and love for the refugees. Each morning, l wake up knowing that I can bring a positive change and touch somebody's life. This has made me a better person. For me, JRS shows refugees who are suffering and hurting that they are not alone and they have the dignity of God and we are in solidarity with them every step they take. Over the last 5 months I have grown in a different way and discovered more the will of God working in me. I have also developed by gaining experience as I undergo a journey of self discovery.

JRS began working in Kakuma refugee camp in 1994 to respond to the thousands of refugees fleeing the civil war in Sudan. Located in north-western Kenya near the Sudanese border, the camp opened in 1992 and as of October 2012, hosted over 100,000 refugees. JRS provides refugees with the opportunity to build new skills for life outside the camp, through a psychosocial counselling and vocational training programme, as well as support for primary, secondary and higher education.

By Cathy Mkamburi, Assistant Counsellor, JRS Kakuma Refugee Camp.