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Melkadida refugee camp, northwest of Dollo Ado on the Addis Ababa road. (Angelika Mendes — Jesuit Refugee Service)

By Katie Allan, Regional Communications Officer, JRS Eastern Africa

(Dollo Ado, Ethiopia) December 20, 2011 — Jesuit Refugee Service has established a new education and psychosocial project to assist refugees from Somalia in Melkadida Refugee Camp outside Dollo Ado, Ethiopia. The camp currently hosts more than 40,000 Somali refugees.

In June 2011, the UN issued an alert that Central and South Somalia had been plagued by severe drought, resulting in the forced displacement of thousands of Somalis into neighboring countries, especially Kenya, Ethiopia and Djibouti, in search of life-saving nutrition, healthcare and shelter. The numbers of Somali refugees arriving in southern Ethiopia jumped from 5,000 per month to more than 30,000 in the second week of June.

In response to this natural disaster, which is thought to be the worst to hit the Horn of Africa region since the Ethiopian drought in the early 1980s, JRS decided to start an education and psychosocial project and began fundraising to assist thousands of Somalis in Melkadida Camp who had fled over the border to Ethiopia, trying to escape the drought as well as the drawn-out conflict in Somalia.

JRS, with the generous support of people like you, is now well underway with the project and has been working hard on logistics to ensure a strong infrastructure and the establishment of project activities. Taking a long-term approach, the psychosocial program includes youth activities and psychosocial counseling, and the education program comprises formal and informal education. 

Logistics have been challenging due to the blessings of heavy rains in the area throughout October and November, but this has not stopped JRS from moving forwards. This update will look at recent developments and future plans for this new project which launched on November 1, 2011.

Staff in place

JRS has recruited a team of experienced staff members to help set up the Dollo Ado project. The Project Director, Assistant Project Director, Administrator, Architect and Counseling Consultant have been on the ground since early October and are establishing systems and designing the detailed project activity plans. Most of the five-strong team has been seconded from other JRS projects in order to ensure that they have the required knowledge and expertise to get the project running as soon as possible. Further staff members are due to join the team early next year and include a Youth Activities Coordinator and a Counselor. 

Youth activities

Planning and implementation of the youth activities aspect of the program has been well underway since early November and JRS has been working closely with the pre-existing youth committee at the camp. JRS plans to facilitate sports and games activities, and targeted trainings for the youth on topics such as health and hygiene and environmental issues. Already, a number of activities have taken place and have received an enthusiastic response. 

For example, football had not been played at the camp for five months due to lack of sports material, but JRS has developed the sports club, provided equipment, and is now encouraging regular football tournaments between four camp teams and one host community team. Future plans include the mobilizing and training of two female volleyball teams. Sport is very important in JRS’s youth activities as through sport, the importance of team-work and non-violent competition can be explored.

Development of two drama clubs has also begun in earnest and already one group have given a performance to celebrate the 16 Days of Activism at the camp, which focused on awareness-raising about gender-based violence (GBV). JRS plans to work with the drama groups throughout the coming months to use music and plays to raise awareness of important issues relating to camp life such as hygiene promotion. JRS is providing all the material for the groups, including drums, guitars and clothes.

Future plans include the construction of a multi-purpose hall which will contain a range of recreational activities such as table tennis, chess and table football. This hall will provide a focal point for the youth and a place where people can escape the heat of the day and meet for social functions and events. JRS is working closely with the Ethiopian Organization for the Administration of Refugee and Returnee Affairs (ARRA) to secure the land necessary to start construction of the hall.

Psychosocial counseling

JRS research has indicated that the refugees in the camp have suffered significant stress prior to their arrival, and many continue to suffer whilst in the camp. Factors such as violence in their home country and during flight, separation from family, reduced quality of life, a general sense of insecurity and experiences of GBV can all lead to a sense of hopelessness and difficulties in coping with everyday life in the camp.  

To address these issues, JRS is currently developing comprehensive psychosocial counseling and support activities for Melkadida Camp. This aspect of the program will focus primarily on enhancing family and community support as after conducting a needs assessment, it became clear that basic services and support are covered well by other agencies in Melkadida. Using participatory approaches such as drama and individual outreach, JRS will reach refugees and provide counseling and forums for expressing their experiences and concerns. JRS will also provide capacity building and training to help community members and refugees themselves become peer psychosocial workers.

Although not yet underway, the initial assessment has revealed a real enthusiasm for the program and members of the community are ready to support the program and engage in training. JRS is finalizing the activities and plans to start the work in early 2011.

Survey of secondary education needs

One of the initial priorities of the project has been to survey the educational needs of the children in Melkadida Camp. Children under 18 currently comprise just under three quarters of the camp population, but when JRS arrived there were no official statistics about the exact figures and so it was unclear exactly how many children would need to benefit. 

JRS has responded to this information gap by conducting a survey to ascertain how many children would be capable of entering secondary education, how many require an initial bridging program, and how many are not yet ready. The results of this assessment are currently being finalized and will be ready in the next week. The next stages in the process will be pre-registration followed by a placement exam. After this, a bridge course from primary to secondary education will be implemented. JRS plans to work closely with ARRA on the provision of education.

Adult literacy and skills training classes

In addition to formal secondary education, JRS is running adult literacy classes and specific skills training classes to increase learning opportunities in the camp. 

The adult literacy classes focus on maths and English language with issues around peace-building woven into the curriculum. Around 250 refugees will benefit from the program in the first year. JRS has located the classes in areas of the camp that are usually underserved by the schools and distribution centers ensuring everyone has a chance to attend. 

Specific skills training is another key part of the JRS program and will assist refugees to gain practical skills for the future. Training courses on tailoring, beauty, and weaving will be taught in combination with business management and book-keeping. Each course will run from six to 12 months, and teachers for the courses have been drawn from skilled refugees living in the camp. Each course will benefit 15–30 students and after completion, start-up funds will be offered to those students interested in starting their own business.

"After months in the camp, the youngsters want more than food and water, they want a future. In this context, education and skills training are the best synonym of future," said Gonzalo Sánchez-Terán, JRS Dollo Ado Project Director.

Construction due to start

The JRS architect has been rapidly designing and planning the main buildings required — the multi-purpose hall for youth activities, a primary education school to support ARRA programs, an office for psychosocial counseling, classrooms for skills training and the JRS staff compound. Construction is due to start very soon, but issues such as the rising cost of building materials, the processes involved in securing land permits, and the sourcing of suitable contractors, have been challenging. 

Still needing our assistance 

The rains have finally come to the Horn of Africa — which is a welcome relief — but flooding has unfortunately become a problem in some places. Refugee arrivals in Dollo Ado have dropped since the peak of the drought (from thousands per week to hundreds per week) but serious conflict and high tensions still continue in Somalia and so JRS’s work in Dollo Ado is ever important. This project will have a profound and long-term effect on the many refugees from Somalia who now live in Melkadida Camp, helping them to gain tangible skills which will ensure their time in the camp is not wasted, and they are prepared for when they eventually leave the camp.

Thank you

Finally, JRS would like to say a big thank you to all our donors and partners. Since the launch of our Dollo Ado appeal, we have received a very positive response. We wish to express our thanks and appreciation.

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