Refugees International Japan (RIJ) regularly visits project sites and refugee communities all over the world to see firsthand the impacts of our support and your donations. We are lucky to meet individuals who are willing to share their personal stories, who teach us that there is more to reality than the sad stories the media often presents. Individuals and communities do their best to rebuild their lives and prepare for the future, and their hard work and positive spirits is a great inspiration for us at RIJ.
South Africa attracts asylum seekers and refugees not only from other African countries, but developing nations around the world due to its relatively stable political and economic situation. However, most refugees and asylum seekers in South Africa come from the Horn of Africa and the Great Lakes region, where famine, ethnic violence and political and economic stability are widespread. South Africa does not have refugee camps. Asylum seekers and refugees live in urban regions and survive largely without assistance.
Over the last few decades, with conflicts raging in Sudan and Somalia, many refugees fled to Kenya to seek asylum. More recently, the rise of the militant group Al-Shabaab in Somalia has seen more refugees seeking protection in Kenya. Through its open door policy, Kenya has accommodated many refugees with the help of UNHCR. There are a number of refugee camps in Kenya, most of which are located on the eastern border of Kenya. However, Caritas Nairobi works with the urban refugee population in Nairobi.
We met with the hard-working and dedicated team—many of whom are refugees themselves—at Bienvenu Shelter. It was excellent to first notice that the shelter has developed a great deal since 2005, with better facilities, more extensive services, and extended outreach to others in the community.
RIJ funding this year provided sewing machines to women as a start-up to develop their own businesses after completing the Shelter’s sewing course—which is taught by a refugee name Joseph. He introduced us to several hard-working women who completed the course and received the start-up support.
We met Victoria who lives with her husband and her three children. She has been resilient in the face of adversity; her husband recently lost his job but they have been able to keep the household afloat with her sewing business.
Another beneficiary we had the pleasure of meeting was Emilia from Angola. She is a single mother of five children whose ages range from 8 to 19 years old, one of whom has a heart condition requiring regular monitoring. Her family has to come up with 2,200 rand per month for month, in addition to other costs of living. Emilia struggles to sell enough bags with her sewing machine to cover these costs, but it helps her family get by and has given her hope for the future.
The sewing machines have provided beneficiaries with a means to cover costs and hope for a better future, but every day is still a struggle and these women are making the best out of their situation. We are pleased to see RIJ funding for Bienvenu has provided the refugees with a means of self-sufficiency and has created pillars of inspiration for their community.
RIJ had an exciting first visit with the Caritas Nairobi team led by Michael Kiburi. They introduced us to several beneficiaries who are now successful entrepreneurs. We first visited to Dagoretti to meet Bizimana Francois, Habimana, and Anatalia. We then traveled to Eastleigh to talk to Rehina Umar, Musasinah Hamadi, and other beneficiaries who still face challenges applying their training.
Francois now runs a successful snack business with his cousin. Business is going so well that they actually employ two Kenyans to assist in distribution, which is a great contribution to the local economy. He is also a musician and released a music video, “Cry of The Refugees”, calling for more visibility of refugees. Francois is a true role model for others, showing the potential of young refugees to overcome obstacles and become positive agents of social change in their communities.
Habimana and Anatalia received training from Caritas Nairobi and are now able to cover the costs of rent, food, and school with their small businesses. Habimana sells second-hand shoes he buys in bulk from Nkombo market (the largest in East Africa) and Anatalia crafts and sells bags that are mostly made to order.
Our next stop was Eastleigh, where the population is largely Ethiopian and Somalian. Women in Eastleigh face challenges in doing business due to Islamic restrictions. However, we were privileged to meet two women who are examples of women’s empowerment and defy these gendered restrictions. Rehina Umar sells tea, coffee, and snacks, and Musasinah Hamadi sells toiletries.
We also met several Somali women in Eastleigh who have completed their training but have yet to complete their business plan; it is a reminder that there are still challenges for refugees despite the skills training, as many of them did not have access to education in their home countries.
Our visit to Nairobi has assured we are funding an effective project aligned with our mission. It is evident Caritas Nairobi trains future entrepreneurs and role models who inspire others to follow in their footsteps, which does a great deal to rebuild lives and restore dignity to the refugee community.