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A young refugee greets visitors to Melkadida refugee camp in Ethiopia, home to 41,500 refugees from Somalia, June 8, 2012. Malkadida is about 42 miles from Dollo Ado. (Christian Fuchs — Jesuit Refugee Service/USA)

(Dollo Ado, Ethiopia) October 15, 2012 — Impressively positioned over a section of Melkadida refugee camp is the new Jesuit Refugee Service multi-purpose hall completed in August. Built to provide refugees in Dollo Ado with a space for indoor sports and games, the hall is easily the largest building for thousands of square miles. Construction work has moved quickly over recent months, with a new school being the latest development. 

Jesuit Refugee Service has been working in Melkadida, about 42 miles across parched land from Dollo Ado, since November 2011. In addition to the multi-purpose hall and school, a meeting hall, counseling block, offices, JRS staff quarters and a skills training center have all been completed in recent months. In mid-October, JRS will officially hand over the newly-constructed primary school to the Ethiopian Administration for Refugee and Returnee Affairs (ARRA) — the school will provide education for 480 refugee children. 

Melkadida is one of five camps in the Dollo Ado area near the Somalia border, with a population of about 41,000 refugees. By the end of this year, JRS will have supported more than 12,500 refugees.

Building the structure for sport

"Around 80 refugees per day will take part in organized indoor sports activities in the new multi-purpose hall as they escape the intense dust and heat of the sun," explained Mulugeta W Eyesus, Dollo Ado Project Director for Jesuit Refugee Service. 

"Already involvement in JRS outdoor sports activities has far exceeded expectations with huge numbers turning out to play volleyball and football (soccer)."

Melkadida soccer Premier League and the volleyball league have attracted enthusiasm from refugees all over the camp. JRS soccer and volleyball practice takes place from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. daily and is attended by more than 200 people and many more spectators. This regular activity has provided a focus and a safe outlet for the stresses of camp life, particularly for young people. 

"We have noticed a marked improvement, almost 80 percent, in social interaction and positivity amongst the refugees who are members of our sporting leagues," said Mr. Eyesus.

The leagues include teams from the Dollo Ado host community as well as the camp teams.

JRS has provided two training workshops on soccer and volleyball skills, and a training session on soccer coaching. Fifteen refugees, who are now fully-trained coaches, helped officiate at major soccer and volleyball tournaments in January, March, and May – bringing the community at the camp together.

Skills training classes are launched 

A unique range of skills training classes were recently launched for adult learners. Training in tailoring, weaving, mat making and henna tattoo design have proved popular. Refugees take the classes in the new skills training center which provides a cool environment away from the dust, heat and wind.

Adult learning in literacy and numeracy has also been very successful. On September 25, 400 students received certificates of participation and accomplishment for Phase 1 of the adult literacy program. 

Over nine months of literacy classes from January to September, figures for those who can read and write simple words in English have gradually risen to an impressive 70 percent. 

An attractive round building with a thatched roof was finalized in August and provides a meeting hall for drama and music activities. Professional workshops on acting and playwriting took place earlier in the year, and from now on these will be conducted in the hall.

Refugees will take part in workshops and training courses in counseling skills in the recently completed office block, hall and counseling rooms complex. 

JRS staff move 'home' and look to the future

JRS staff moved into their new offices and living spaces earlier in September. This marks a fundamental shift in operations, from tented accommodation to a permanent JRS compound.  

One year on from the terrible Horn of Africa drought, which prompted the launch of the JRS Dollo Ado appeal, and the construction work is almost complete.

When JRS staff members first visited the camp in August 2011 to scope out the needs, the construction vision was just a sketch on an architect’s drawing board. Months of planning and work later, and the project has really taken shape. 

JRS provided employment to hundreds of local artisans from the host community to assist with the construction of all the new buildings. 

Over the next months, refugees will reap the benefits of the new buildings and it is hoped that motivation, well-being and increased hope for the future will continue in an upward curve. Future plans include the building of a dedicated adult literacy centre.

By Katie Allan
Regional Communications Officer
Jesuit Refugee Service Eastern Africa

JRS has been accompanying and serving refugees in Melkadida refugee camp near Dollo Ado since November 2011. The project aims to help the massive numbers of Somali refugees who have flooded to the camp to escape conflict, drought and poverty in their country. JRS is implementing comprehensive education and psychosocial programs.

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