Kenya: Charting the way forward
11 November 2013

The JRS Eastern Africa Country Directors pose for a group photograph with JRS-EA Regional Officers after a meeting in Nairobi, Kenya. The meeting brought together Country Directors from four of the five countries that make up the JRS Eastern Africa Region. (Allan Kiprotich/JRS)
Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) has been described as a purpose driven organization that serves refugees and other displaced persons in areas where there is greatest need.
Nairobi, 11 November 2013 - The Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) has been described as a purpose driven organization that serves refugees and other displaced persons in areas where there is greatest need. Addressing JRS-EA Country Directors in Nairobi, the JRS Eastern Africa Regional Director Fr. Deogratias Rwezaura, SJ pointed out that the organisation works where there are gaps in humanitarian assistance, often in difficult and challenging locations such as Syria. This according to the Regional Director calls for a lot of commitment from the JRS leadership and staff members as they continue to accompany, serve and advocate for the rights of refugees and other forcibly displaced persons.

Reports from the JRS-EA countries. Addressing the meeting, the JRS Ethiopia Country Director Fr. Endashaw Debrework, SJ said that more refugees continued to stream into Ethiopia mainly from Somalia and Eritrea. "JRS has extended its services to Kobe Refugee Camp in Dollo Ado complex since August 2013," said Fr. Endashaw. According to him, JRS now works in 3 of the 23 refugee camps in Ethiopia with the total population of refugees currently standing at 427,000. JRS also has a presence in Addis Ababa where it serves urban refugees. "We have a very cordial working relationship with UNHCR", said Fr. Endashaw noting that this has greatly helped the work of JRS in Ethiopia.

The JRS Uganda Country Representative, Mr. Stephen Kuteesa in his address to the meeting said that JRS had been well received in Kampala. "Our English and kindergarten classes have seen a remarkable change in the beneficiaries," said Kuteesa. There are 8 refugee camps in Uganda but JRS works only in Kampala where it serves urban refugees. "The liberal refugee policy in Uganda has allowed many refugees to settle in Kampala," added Kuteesa. According to him, at the moment there are around 39,000 registered refugees and asylum seekers in Kampala.

Kuteesa added that JRS directly engages beneficiaries when planning for the year. "At the beginning of the year, we usually hold a beneficiary consultative meeting," he said. This according to Kuteesa enables JRS to plan activities that the beneficiaries have identified as priorities, thus improving services offered.

Celebrating the work of JRS. The 18th December 2012 directive by the Government of Kenya that stopped the registration of refugees in Nairobi and other urban areas is still causing anxiety according to the JRS Kenya Country Director Ms. Mary Gikonyo. However Gikonyo told the gathering that JRS continues to provide services to urban refugees in Nairobi especially in education. "53 (27 female and 26 male) have so far been supported to access and continue pursuing their secondary education. These students have been supported with school fees, school uniforms, academic and boarding requirements," said Gikonyo. She also informed the gathering that 33 public primary schools were also being supported with education materials.

In Kakuma, Gikonyo noted that the refugee population continued to rise with at least 1,500 new arrivals reported per week. She especially pointed out the great success of the Jesuit Commons Higher Education at the Margins (JC-HEM) programme in Kakuma that had recently seen 26 students, including 2 from the local community, graduate with a Diploma in Liberal Studies from Regis University, Denver Colorado USA. "This is a great achievement for JRS and those who graduated," added Gikonyo.

In Sudan, JRS is mainly present in Mellit in North Darfur according to the JRS Sudan Country Director, Fr. Joseph Rodrigues, SJ. "JRS works in 4 pre-schools, 17 basic schools and 16 skills training centres," Fr. Rodrigues reported. It also supports 5 schools in the outskirts of Khartoum.

According to the JRS Eastern Africa Regional Programmes Officer, Ms. Cathy O'Connor, JRS runs 2 programmes in South Sudan. The JRS Yambio project started operations in April 2013 while the Maban project is expected to start in 2014. "In Yambio, JRS supports 4 primary and 4 secondary schools with the main focus on girl's education but this will increase to a total of 10 schools in 2014," said O?Connor.  To ensure quality education JRS also sponsors 19 (12 in Primary and 7 in Secondary) South Sudanese in teacher training colleges in Uganda. Upon completion of their training these teachers will help improve the quality of education in Yambio.

In South Sudan the Government education policy places more emphasis on science subjects, which is a challenge, according to Ms. O'Connor because many schools do not have basic facilities such as laboratories. However JRS is not new to South Sudan having operated in 4 projects sites from 1997 to 2012.

The JRS-EA 2013 Country Directors' meeting provided a good opportunity to chart the way forward together and promote more dialogue among the 5 countries in which JRS is present within Eastern Africa. It was also an opportunity for JRS to focus more on its mission and vision given the complex humanitarian context of the region. This is hoped to better improve the services of JRS Eastern Africa to the people served.

By Charles M. Njanga, JRS Eastern Africa Communications Officer

Eastern Africa has long been home to large refugee populations. JRS is active in camps, cities and places where refugees have returned to after time in exile. In the capital cities of Addis Ababa (Ethiopia), Kampala (Uganda) and Nairobi (Kenya), JRS works with urban refugees whose predicament poses huge challenges in terms of numbers, poor living conditions, risks faced and requirements for basic survival.
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