Kakuma – The Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) runs a project in the Kakuma Refugee Camp, in northwestern Kenya, which focuses on protection and education for children living with disabilities.
In 2009, JRS recognised the need for a project that would provide additional support to these children. Previously, JRS community outreach workers were visiting homes in the Kakuma camp, specifically where families were living. While the initial goal of the home visits was to provide focused psychosocial support, a participatory needs assessment revealed a wider problem. Children and adults with disabilities, especially those with intellectual or motor disabilities, were often homebound, unsupervised, and vulnerable. Parents and families often had multiple responsibilities that limited their ability to provide effective care, and pervasive stigma limited the physical spaces in the camp that were open to these children. This inspired JRS to consider how to best meet the educational needs of this population while encouraging their social participation.
In response, JRS opened a day care centre, staffed by local, trained caregivers who provide supervision, therapeutic massage, instruction in activities for daily living, and general care. This model provided a safe supervised space for children to receive psychosocial support and protection. Based on the success of the project, three more centres were opened in Kakuma camp, providing services to an average of 200 children each year.
The project has even expanded to include outreach to homebound children, family support groups, and community awareness events. Elizabeth Wanjiku has worked as coordinator on the project for the last two years. In her position, she has seen the changes over time. “The project is directly reaching one child at a time through the centres, and through that service, is able to reach and support families as well, which serves to really expand the project’s impact.”
Since 2016, JRS has taken further efforts to enable children with disabilities to move into shared spaces in the community. In addition to operating the day care centres in the camp, JRS has also worked with the formal school system to help provide educational access for children who are prepared to transition to a more formal learning setting. Despite the challenges faced in the education system in Kakuma 73 children were able to be integrated into the formal education system in 2017. JRS offered support to the children and their families during the transition, and progress is periodically monitored to ensure their needs are being met.