Kenya: A surprise gift from the Nigerian First Lady
30 September 2013

Refugees line up to receive food at the Mary Mother of God Catholic Church Githurai Parish in Nairobi that was donated by the Nigeria First Lady Mrs. Patience Jonathan and distributed by JRS. (Allan Kasagandjo/JRS)
Through its Nairobi Urban Emergency Programme (UEP) JRS currently runs more than five food distribution centres in Nairobi and its surroundings.
Nairobi, 30 September 2013 - In July and August 2013, urban refugees in Nairobi, Kenya got a reason to smile. This was after receiving a gift of food from the Nigerian First Lady Mrs. Patience Jonathan. This food was handed over to the UNHCR by the Kenyan first lady Margaret Kenyatta on behalf of her Nigerian counterpart. The food included rice, spaghetti, tomato paste, cooking oil, sugar and maize meal.

To make the distribution more successful, UNHCR called all local agencies dealing with refugees for a meeting in order to plan a smooth distribution process. More than 20 agencies sent their representative to this meeting. Each agency’s representative was asked to explain how good they are as far as food distribution is concerned and how they will distribute their share.

Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) a Catholic Organization dealing with refugees for many years was found to be more reliable in this process. Due to its experience in food distribution UNHCR decided to give JRS a bigger share of this food. Through its Nairobi Urban Emergency Programme (UEP) JRS currently runs more than five food distribution centres in Nairobi and its surroundings. These centres are located in Eastleigh, Kayole, Githurai, Riruta and Dagoreti areas of Nairobi.

Reaching out to vulnerable families. In less than a week, JRS was able to reach more than 2000 urban refugees’ families living in Nairobi and its surroundings. This assistance was extended to vulnerable Kenyan families as well. In order to be assisted a refugee needed to provide any form of identification issued by either the Government of Kenya’s Department of Refugees’ Affairs (DRA) or by the UNHCR. To avoid one refugee getting food in more than one centre, JRS planned the distribution to take place on the same day and at the same time in all its centres. Kenyans, Burundians, Congolese, Ethiopians, Eritreans, Rwandese and Sudanese were grouped according to their nationalities as they lined up ready to receive their portions.
Mangasa a woman refugee from Eastern DRC couldn’t hide her joy after receiving her portion comprising of 6kg of rice, 3litres of cooking oil, 1kg of sugar, 3 tins of tomato paste and a packet of sanitary pad “We are really grateful to the first lady of Nigeria Mrs. Patience Jonathan for remembering us. I was wondering what I will cook for my family today and thank JRS for a very transparent and fair distribution”, she said.

In Nairobi, JRS provides a range of services to new arrivals, asylum seekers and refugees in the most vulnerable circumstances. These services include emergency food and medical assistance, assistance with rent payment, provision of basic non-food items, support for income generation activities, pastoral and psychosocial accompaniment, and educational scholarships for the children of vulnerable refugees. In addition, JRS runs the Mikono Shop based at the Nairobi office, which provides an outlet for refugees to sell and market their handicrafts.