Rebecca Horn, a freelance international humanitarian worker from Liverpool, shares her experience of working in areas of conflict and disaster around the world. Here she reflects on her recent trip to Kenya:
Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya was the place I first started working in the psychosocial field, and the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) was the organisation that gave me the chance to spend three years there learning, meeting the most inspiring people and trying to do a decent job.
So it felt like things were moving in a beautiful circle when, 15 years later, JRS invited me to come back to Kenya to facilitate a workshop for their psychosocial teams from all over the world. JRS are very well-known for running education programmes in refugee situations, but over the last 10 years or so they have increasingly been offering mental health and psychosocial support to people affected by conflict and displacement. These services have grown in an ad hoc way, without much connection to the learning that has taken place in the field over recent years about what is most effective, so JRS decided to bring representatives from all their psychosocial teams together in Nairobi to share experiences and learn about current standards and good practices in the field.
It was a big group of people, 45 in total, and I was facilitating the workshop on my own for four days so it was very full-on, but this group was just a pleasure to work with. They were so open and willing to learn, and to consider new ways of providing the services that some of them had been involved with for years. One of the things that is so special about JRS, compared to other international organisations, is that they connect with refugees on a very human level, not just as a set of problems which need to be addressed. And they were the same with me! Every day there would be a stream of people coming up to me checking I’m OK, telling me that I’m doing a good job, and generally giving me an energy-boost. I’ve never felt as well-cared for by a group of people I was training!
I stayed on a few days after the workshop ended, so I could catch up with some friends. My time working in Kakuma was very special for me, and the people I worked with there are still amongst my closest friends. We went through a lot together, and were all living and working together, away from our friends and families so we became very close. I still visit many of them when I’m in Kenya and talk to others on the phone.
So the day after the workshop finished, I headed over to Kwambira, a village close to Limuru where my friend Lawrence and his family live.
Their house is in a rural area and is the first place I go when I’ve finished a job in Kenya. I sleep in a small tin shed near to their house (cosier than it sounds), and wake up to the sound of chickens, goats and cows. I’m fed beans, greens and chapatis and sit around drinking beer in the garden and chatting to whoever happens to pass by the house. I’m totally spoiled and I love it.