Dadaab at 25: Staff Profiles

Dadaab at 25: Staff Profiles

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CARE’s Kenyan and refugee staff give their thoughts, reflections and achievements on the last 25 years of Dadaab refugee camp.

Changing attitudes

Agatha Muthoni Mugo, CARE Gender Officer: “for me the biggest change I have seen here in Dadaab is in perception change. I came in 2011 during the emergency and at that point half the (refugee) staff didn’t understand what sexual and gender based violence was, and we needed translators because they couldn’t speak English. Now I can say that the staff are really aware, some have gone on to become camp leaders and they are holding the NGOs accountable themselves. In my first group forums where I met women, they saw NGOs as just bringing stress, because we were asking them to change behaviour and cultural norms. Now it is like another world, they know their rights and are saying ‘no’ to things like wife battery and they are generally happier to talk out and are even teaching their fellow women about these kinds of issues.

But I think the biggest change in terms of perception, and one of our biggest successes has been changing the mentality among men, and Somali men in particular. In the beginning the feeling was that the work we did on gender and development was about fighting men and protecting women. They all said: ‘we thought gender was for women’, but now they understand and participate. I’ve seen men identifying cases of gender based violence in their blocks and reporting them to our office. Before they held their egos high, now they seek support. I had one man who came to me and said; ‘you’ve taught us about behaviour change – so I want to report my wife – she’s provoking me and I don’t want to resort to violence so can you help me to talk to her.’ We now have men talking about women’s issues and fighting for women’s rights, the change is enormous and so encouraging. We found the refugees with their knowledge of these issues at zero, and now they come seeking support and this is reflected in the numbers; gender based violence has gone down from 3-4 years ago. Before, we had around 20 cases a week and now it is closer to 15.  When I look at the community I see it is an empowered community; from being taught they rights to now coming and demanding their rights.”

Overcoming trauma

Ahmed Abdullahi Dahir, CARE refugee ‘para-counsellor’: I am a refugee myself and have been in Dadaab since June 1992. I joined CARE’s counselling team 6 years ago. I was five years old when I came to Dadaab and not long after arriving I was kicked by a donkey in my right arm while I was at a water tap stand. I spent the next 3 years very sick and even now I can’t use my right arm properly. When I think about it now it feels like it happened yesterday still and I relive all the trauma of it.

In school I worked closely with CARE and it was a dream to become involved with counselling. Now, I have managed this dream and I have learnt a lot. Most people can’t differentiate counselling from advice or orders. In counselling there are options and the ‘client’ has a choice.  I can deal with a lot of issues in the community myself now, and when there is a case I can’t handle I refer it to one of the CARE national staff who are professionals. You have to be very focused doing this type of work and in this environment. Self-awareness has been the best part of the job; you have to know who you are as a person, where you come from and where you are going. My dream is to one day become a professional counsellor.

Since I joined we have changed a lot. When I was still a student and coming here [to CARE office] people would call us names, saying this office was the one creating chaos in the families. All the community – including me – had a lot of trauma coming from Somalia and there was nothing to help them. We did a lot of sensitisation training and activities including group and one on one counselling and door-to-door visits. People’s perceptions have now really changed, and women in particular have been empowered.

Providing a life-long skill

Mohammed Abdi Ahmed, CARE refugee area education officer: I came to Dadaab as a refugee in 1992 and I started working with CARE in 1996 as a classroom teacher. A lot has changed since then. When we first came here we had a dream that we would go back home and stop being refugees so the curriculum we used is schools was a mixed one of the Somali and Kenyan system. At that point people still believed they wouldn’t still be in Kenya for the national exams in the secondary school so there was no point learning the Kenyan curriculum. Back then the classrooms were made out of sticks, there were not enough desks so pupils sat on the floor, teachers weren’t trained and not many parents were sending their children to school. People were coming from conflict so there was a lot of distrust in acting freely, people had a lot of grudges from Somalia, but education has brought them together as brothers and sisters.

Now in 2016, things have changed slowly by slowly. CARE has worked on making classrooms more permanent, providing desks and training teachers. Some of the children now even go to university and those people running refugee services are the ones who have come through CARE education. The staff of Dadaab are the products of CARE, and they motivate others to send their children to school.

Here in the camps people know that education is a tool to help and protect you. Some of the people here used to be rich and own big companies back in Somalia, but they lost all this and only those with education survived, and they are the ones that got jobs here. People say we got nothing valuable from the camp, but the good we get is education. By status you’re a refugee, but by personality and competence you are far more than that.

Refugees doing it for themselves

Gideon, CARE WASH Officer: I came here to Dadaab as an assistant hygiene promotion officer. I have moved my way up and am now in charge of WASH operations in the camp. I’ve grown and interacted with the community and it has been a pleasure to work with them and mentor and build capacity. When they get it right, it makes me feel very happy. Now, 25 years on, we have 202 refugee staff working on water, sanitation and hygiene in Dagahaley camp. We give them technical support and they manage the systems and the team leaders manage the teams of, for example, hygiene promoters. In 25 years we have trained and empowered the refugees so they can manage day to day things themselves.

We have trained up the refugee community to do things like servicing of boreholes and tap stands, and access to water is no longer the big problem it was at the beginning of the camp. We even have repair teams made up entirely of refugees that man the 63 kilometer water system network; fixing things when they breakdown. Refugees can move freely without security issues when the situation is difficult (unlike non refugee staff) and keep things running. At the moment we are training them on motorbike riding and giving them bikes so they can get around easier and quicker and this will improve response time.