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Kenya: Responding to the challenges of accompaniment
21 February 2014

A group of boys happily pose for a photo at Kakuma Refugee Camp in Kenya. They are part of the thousands of newly arrived refugees from South Sudan at the camp after fighting broke out in their country in mid-December 2013. (Alex Kiptanui/JRS)
“I am impressed to find people like you who work with dedication to heal suffering. I encourage you to continue because what you do saves the world. A society that cannot lead itself has no future. You help society know there is healing and hope and this is the best gift you can give to others.”

Kakuma, 21 February 2014 - Accompaniment forms an integral part of the service which Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) offers in the work that we do with refugees. In walking with the forcibly displaced persons, being able to walk with them has grown with each day that they arrive in the camp. Kakuma Refugee Camp continues to receive many people who were fleeing their home countries as a result of numerous reasons: war, conflict, drought and hunger, as well as religious persecution.

In December, 2009 while visiting the camp in Kakuma, the Jesuit Superior General Fr. Nicolas Adolfo, SJ remarked, “I am impressed to find people like you who work with dedication to heal suffering. I encourage you to continue because what you do saves the world. A society that cannot lead itself has no future. You help society know there is healing and hope and this is the best gift you can give to others.” The Superior General remark appears in the JRS booklet Recreating Right Relationships – Deepening the mission of reconciliation in the work of JRS published in 2013.

Accompaniment in times of displacement. In 2013 alone, the project was able to reach to thousands refugees who came to the camp seeking asylum. Accompaniment was experienced at all these moments of their lives such as counselling of individuals, spiritual nourishment, provision of scholarships, safe shelters for those with protection and security risks in the communities. Ruoth*, a community counsellor,  in his letter to the JRS office in Kakuma describes how JRS has been helpful in walking with members of his community to alleviate suffering occasioned by emotional and psychological trauma of war. 

Running away from one’s own country to the camp is bound to cause a lot of emotional problems and the counsellors support them through these difficult moments. Physical pains have also contributed to the many problems refugees experience during and after flight. Massage and reflexology are used to help them heal and lead as normal lives as possible. John*, one of the counsellors that have been trained by JRS, indicates that the trainings which he attended have made him a better person and able to offer better services to the many people he meets. “The new arrivals from my community get an opportunity to receive great help”, he says.

He enumerates some challenges that he faces in his work with refugees. “The community members continue to arrive at the camp each day and therefore require more people to offer counselling.” The new arrivals who were settled in Kakuma 4 have moved to Kakuma 1 where their relatives and community members are settled. This has placed a lot of pressure on the JRS staff working in these areas as the numbers continue to grow daily.

Healing the wounds. One of the lead trainers who provide training for the counsellors writes on how his skills have been helpful to the refugees who continue to arrive in the camp from the different countries of the world. “How do we tell that an individual is offering what is good for the community?” I listen to his question and ponder quietly. Jamleck* participated in conducting 7 trainings in Basic counselling skills to the staff who work with the refugees in 2013. The many counsellors who undergo these trainings have perfected their skills and are allowed to provide individual and group counselling sessions. He and many others are present in the lives of the community members accompanying them through difficult moments with love and care.

Lead trainers have proved to be quite helpful on providing counselling services in the communities and help those who have emotional problems. So how do we know when one is offering a good service to the community? It is by listening to the many testimonies of refugees who have been supported to find healing, pursue secondary and college education, seeing the transformation that comes as a result of the many trainings offered and the smiles we evoke when we meet them during their good and bad times while in the camp. He writes with passion. I muse at this summation. It is by offering ourselves to the service of the people we live with each day.

The current influx has made it quite difficult for the staff to respond to all the cases which they meet during their visits to the reception centres and the new arrival site. Yet, they still walk there every day and do all they can with joy and love. Abel*, a supervisor in JRS centre 4 reminds us of the duty that we have of offering ourselves to the refugees and walking with them with hope. 

*Names have been changed to protect identities

By Alex Kiptanui, JRS Kakuma Project Director

JRS began work 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 currently hosts nearly 140,000 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.


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