I am very fortunate to be given this opportunity to work with refugees in Kenya this summer. It was one of those things I had been dreaming about for quite some times to someday go back to the country that hosted me as the refugee over decade ago and be a witness to the new beginning for many refugees who are anxiously waiting to learn about their new adoptive countries. It’ s a rewarding lifetime experience to come back and witness the beginning of a new journey to new homeland.
Since I arrived in Nairobi, I have been volunteering with the International Organization for Migration, IOM, an intergovernmental governmental organization that works to ensure the orderly and humane management of migration and search for practical solutions to migration problems by providing humanitarian assistance to migrants in need, be they refugees, displaced persons or other uprooted people.
While waiting to get started with my host organization, the Resettlement Support Center-Africa, RSC. I was given opportunity to volunteer with IOM’s cultural orientation department in Nairobi, which conducts cultural orientation training for refugees who are approved for resettlement in the developed world. I worked with the refugees from Congo, Somalia, Ethiopia, and Eretria. For my first three weeks, I assisted with the Canadian Orientation Aboard program in Nairobi’s transit center educating refugees about Canada’s society, history, culture, and way of life. The three days intense training prepares refugees for what they would encounter once they arrive in Canada. The course covers from basic living skills to a complex life style they would encounter as they go through the process of integration. I was able to use my language skills and share my personal experiences with the Amharic, Somali and Oromo speaking refugees for extra elaboration.
The most memorable part of my involvement with IOM was my trip to Kakuma, the second largest refugee camp in Kenya and the cultural orientation session I co-trained with Paticia Njuki at the camp. Patrica, who is a Ph.D holder and long time IOM cultural orientation trainer allowed me to fully interact with a group of 31 young adult Southern Sudanese students who are approved to resettle in Canada. These young people are not only given an opportunity to resettle in Canada but they will be University students this fall. They are selected through a very competitive process facilitated by a local NGO called Windle Trust of Kenya and World University Services of Canada, WUSC the sponsoring NGO to help qualified young refugees to pursue higher education in Canadian University and Colleges. WUSC provide refugee students with an opportunity to leave the camp and pursue higher education in Canadian university and resettling as permanent residents.
Most of the refugees I helped train were born in Kakuma refugee camp and they only heard of their homeland from their parents or their community at the camp. It didn’t take me that long to relate to them and I was comfortable enough to tell them that they are the luckiest ones. They were able to complete their high school education through sponsorship outside of the camp and given chance to study/live in Canada with one year full ride scholarship.
I found them very engaging and smart group of people, they ask me many questions concerning college life style, study habits, student jobs, and how to make new friends. Our interaction went beyond the usual three-day training time and I was requested by most of them to give them extra day and I was given permission to do just that. I meet with most of them informally at a café in the camp and we continued with our open interactive discussions on some potential cultural challenges they would face and the adjustment they need to make to cope with some situations. I hope to continue to stay in touch with them and most of them asked if they can email me for further question in the future.
For the remaining part of my time in Kenya, I will be working with the U.S. Resettlement Support Center, RSC, in Nairobi. RSC Africa, interview applicants to determine their family histories and to obtain other relevant information needed by the U.S. Government to determine applicants’ eligibility for admission to the U.S. as refugees. RSC Africa also compiles information for use by resettlement agencies in the U.S. to arrange sponsorships for those who are approved for admission.
I will be working with the Cultural Orientation Department helping with curriculum development, assemble training materials for the field team, research/translation and hold informal discussion with cultural orientation team on challenges faced by newly arrived refugees in the U.S as the way of professional development.
In addition, RSC Africa provides overseas cultural orientation to refugees who are approved for resettlement to the U.S.
CWS has conducted overseas case processing in sub-Saharan Africa since 1990, and through this work has helped more than 200,000 refugees throughout Africa begin new lives in the U.S.
Currently, I am involved in helping with the Canadian Cultural Orientation program and we just completed training two weeks for group of refugees who are approved to resettled in Canada.
This week, I am in Kakuma Refugee Camp the second largest refugee camp in Kenya helping with the cultural orientation for a group of refugees who will be joining College and Universities in Canada
The views expressed in this article represent those of the author and not necessarily those of the University of Minnesota Human Rights Center. As a forum for dialogue and education, and an acknowledgment of the contentious nature of human rights issues, some views expressed on this blog may not necessarily be those of the Human Rights Center as an institution.