Kenya: Counselling in the refugee community
11 February 2013

A group of refugee are attended to by a JRS staff member (right) in Nairobi. (Katie Allan/JRS)
Counselling is crucial in our community as refugees.
Nairobi, 1 February 2013 - Counselling is a process of relating and responding between a therapist and a counsellee so that s/he maybe in a position to explore her thoughts, feelings and behaviour in a healthy and relaxed way so as to reach a clearer self-understanding. It also helps a counsellee find and use his or her strengths, weaknesses so that they may cope effectively with life by making appropriate decisions or taking relevant action.

Counselling is crucial in our community as refugees. It helps those seeking counselling ventilate the issues that may be blocking them from progressing. It also helps them reach a stage of self-awareness and discover their potential or resources that they may not have been aware of. Our role as Community Helpers is to assist our clients to find ways of changing their feelings and behaviour that could be a hindrance in their progress.

Since this voluntary programme was begun by Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) 3 years ago, we have handled different kinds of clients with various issues, e.g. trauma from war, loss of lives, unwanted pregnancies, lack of employment, killings, sexual abuse, rape,identity crisis, anger, hatred, divisions, difficulties in marriages, change of roles in families, terminal illnesses. These issues have been tackled at a level of our expertise by listening, accompanying them, advocating for their needs through the office, referral to other agencies and hospitals when necessary.

Achievements. When the counselling programme was very new, most of the refugees had very little information on what it entails. As Community Helpers, we have taught them what it is and with the help of the office, they have come to an understanding about it but the journey is still on-going.

We have also helped them to overcome the idea that all is lost but instead rise up and work where they can, to enable them earn their living. Many are running small businesses with the help of small loans and grants from JRS and other agencies and this enables them to fend for their families and take their children to school. In 2012, a total of 267 refugees and asylum seekers were attended to during counselling, with 149 of them being female while 118 were male.

Challenges. A number of refugees do not understand the importance of counseling, given they find it a waste of time and prefer instead to use that time to look for food through the Social Workers and other agencies.

There is thus need to provide training on counselling to Community Helpers as much as possible so as to enable them deal with the emerging issues in the community.

By Judith Nadine & Jeanette Mukaru, JRS Nairobi Urban Emergency Project

JRS has been assisting urban refugees in Nairobi since 1991, responding to the urgent, unmet needs of new arrivals (asylum seekers and refugees) in the most vulnerable circumstances. JRS prioritises single women with large families, household heads without support, unaccompanied minors, people with special needs or disabilities, elderly refugees, the sick, and those living with HIV/AIDS. As of December 2012, estimates suggest the number of registered refugees and asylum seekers residing in Nairobi is over 50,000.