Support centre offers care, hope to refugees from South Sudan

South Sudanese refugees with handicrafts they have learned to make through an income-generating course at the Kakuma Support Centre in Turkana, Kenya. © UNFPA/Bernard Muthaka
  • 18 September 2015

KAKUMA, Kenya – Every once in a while, Joyce Dabor is jolted from sleep by memories of the day she was separated from her children. It was the day they finally escaped the bloody conflict in South Sudan.

Ms. Dabor was pregnant at the time, and a widow, her husband having been killed in the conflict. As they were being evacuated to the Kakuma refugee camp, in northern Kenya, she lost sight of her two children. It would be days before she saw them again.

The family was eventually reunited by the International Rescue Committee. But the horrors of war continued to haunt Ms. Dabor. Even now, she shares a bed with her children, fearing they might again disappear.


She began to attend group therapy sessions, held under a large tree in the camp. Often, the unforgiving sandstorms would force them to abandon the sessions and take cover.

Today, the shade of the tree has been replaced by the Kakuma Support Centre, a UNFPA-supported facility. In addition to group therapy, the centre offers lessons in income-generating skills such as baking, embroidery, tailoring, crocheting and gardening. Women also learn about their rights, and can and receive reproductive health care – including antenatal check-ups and family planning counselling. Special services are also available for survivors of gender-based violence.

Ms. Dabor has been taking the centre’s embroidery classes. “I get all the material and training from this centre,” she told UNFPA, adding, “I always sell the pieces at the market.  This way, I am able to buy fresh vegetables and fruits for my family.”

She says she is recovering from the stresses of war, and her handicraft skills are improving. Her latest project is a table mat embroidered with two white doves, each carrying a leaf in its beak.

“I have slowly forgotten the pain brought by the war,” she said. 

Making care accessible

Since the South Sudanese conflict began in 2013, there has been a steady influx of refugees in the area. Initially, most temporary shelters were located far from clinics and hospitals. Women routinely walked 5 to 10 kilometres in searing heat to obtain basic health care or support for survivors of violence.

UNFPA began constructing the centre in January, with support from the Central Emergency Response Fund. The building was completed in May. Now, vulnerable women are able to access psychological care, medical services and livelihood support all in the same location.

“This facility has helped us realize great results here, especially in helping the refugees plan their families and in improving maternal health outcomes,” said UNFPA’s Representative in Kenya Siddharth Chatterjee. “This year alone, we have had 1,933 births at the hospital in Kakuma, with 97 per cent if these being hospital deliveries.  This is higher than the national average.”

According to Julliet Maina, who works for UNFPA in Kakuma, attendance at antenatal check-ups is at 70 per cent, and post-natal care attendance is at 90 per cent – both also higher than the national average.

“Working with the International Rescue Committee, we have also increased the number of professional medical workers at the camp,” Ms. Maina added. “In the first half of 2015, we were able to attend to 146 survivors of gender violence.”

Dignity kits an entry point to care

As women leave the support centre, they collect a dignity kit to take home. Each dignity kit contains sanitary napkins, underwear, soap, toothpaste and a bucket. To help the women feel safer navigating the camp at night, the kits also contain a whistle and flashlight.

Ms. Maina explains that many women come to the support centre just for the dignity kit. Once there, they learn about the other services available.

“Some women used to ridicule me whenever I told them I was going for a meeting under a tree. But now they have seen the benefits of this centre and are always here with me,” she said, smiling.

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