Against all odds

Last Sunday I received a text and some photos (via WhatsApp) during the worship service at my church in Minnesota. They were from a Somali mama in Kakuma refugee camp. She had been bitten by a poisonous snake and was in the camp hospital. She was asking for prayer. I’ve been told that the snakes in Kakuma can kill a person in 10 minutes.

I was able to pay the mama a visit yesterday evening. Thank God she is fine now. Fully recovered. She gave me a cold glass bottle of Coke and we talked for over an hour together, with Bianca, a 28 year old single mother from Burundi serving as our translator.

Bianca is pretty sick. High fever. Chills. Body pain. She went to the medical clinic suspecting a diagnosis of malaria, but it came back negative. But she is still sure that is what she has. In spite of her condition, she was happy to translate – and share a bit of her own story with me.

Bianca’s husband left her because she has diabetes and is often sick. It’s tough to manage diabetes here. She isn’t in control of her diet and there isn’t much food to begin with. She also cannot afford testing strips. She has an 11 month old son from her marriage. In the world of a refugee camp, Bianca is among the most vulnerable of refugees – a single mother with chronic illness.

Bianca has a job in the camp with a humanitarian organisation. It doesn’t pay well, but she desperately needs the money. She is afraid she will soon be let go due to her health issues and because of a shortfall in UN funding that is causing NGOs to reduce expenses by 30%. The shortfall is in part because the USA is drastically reducing its contribution to the UN budget. It is hard to see how American foreign policy is impacting a life of someone so far away.

I offered to pray with and for Bianca. Mama Fartun joined with us.

Bianca then said; “This never happens in the camp.”

I asked, “What?”

“White visitors never come to talk for more than five minutes and then go away. We have sat together for more than an hour, talking about life and praying together. When you came, I was feeling so sick and tired. Now I feel better. I even have hope. Thank you.”

I’ve heard that before. I’m grateful to be part of IAFR, an organisation that values not only service – but relationship. It is often what is missing in the lives of those in refugee camps or traversing continents and seas in search of safety and peace. People who care and who will simply take time to sit together, listen to one another and pray together.

We will never be able to solve all of the problems of the people here in Kakuma. But we can be present with them.

It’s important to also mention that I came away from our visit changed as well. I am inspired by the faith and perseverance of Bianca and Mama as they face incredible daily challenges and yet remain welcoming, hospitable and generous with what they have (did I mention Mama offered me a meal as we sat together?).

-Tom Albinson

World Aids Day

We arrived in Kakuma yesterday to find it was World’s Aids Day. Our friends and partners at National Council of Churches (NCCK) took us to the part of the camp where NGOs and refugees were observing the day together with music, skits and speeches. AIDS continues to threaten the lives of people here. I can’t imagine being HIV positive in such a harsh environment.

The gathering was also a visual reminder of how the vast majority of refugees are children, youth and women.

I met these new friends at the Aids Day festivities. They asked me to take these photos and make them available to them – so I’m doing so through this blog. Enjoy guys!

Partnering with refugee churches

The main purpose of our work in Kakuma is to partner with refugee churches n ways that help people survive and recover from forced displacement. The churches with whom we partner are members of a refugee initiated association of churches called United Refugee and Host Churches (URHC). When we last visited in April, there were 83 URHC affiliated churches representing a wide diversity of denominations, nationalities and language groups.

We are already working together with URHC on several projects, most of which were initiated by the churches.

I recently received this photo from one of the URHC affiliated churches in Kalobeyei refugee settlement. About 7 miles from Kakuma, Kalobeyei hosts nearly 40,000 refugees (mostly from South Sudan). Kalobeyei was established in June 2016.

Established in 1992, the official population of Kakuma refugee camp today is nearly 186,000. Taken together, the total refugee population in the Kakuma region is a staggering 226,000 men, women and children.

We count it a privilege to partner with National Council of Churches Kenya (NCCK) in our ministry in Kenya.

When 22 hours = 33 hours

So we are half way to Nairobi. While sitting here in Amsterdam, I calculated the travel time between Minneapolis – Nairobi. In reality, it is just under 22 hours (barring any delays). But you could also say, that in reality, it is just under 33 hours.

It depends on how you calculate time. If by the sun’s location in the heavens (which is pretty much the point of telling time), then it takes 33 hours. But if measuring how many hours actually elapse, then 22 is correct.

Either way, it will be good to finally reach our destination tonight and then meet with several of our partners in Nairobi tomorrow, before flying up to Kakuma early on Friday morning.

Heading back to Kakuma

Kalobeyei Refugee Settlement

IAFR will soon be heading back to remote northwestern Kenya to visit our friends in Kakuma Refugee Camp and neighboring Kalobeyei Refugee Settlement. We began our partnership with refugee churches there in 2011. We count it a privilege to be partnering with them in diverse ways – including helping them build the Kakuma Interdenominational School of Mission. The school has been operating since the late 1990s. It has never had its own building. Our generous donors have now made it possible to secure a plot and building materials to build a school with 3 classrooms, a meeting hall, an office and a secured courtyard. We can’t wait to see the vision become a reality!

The KISOM building project is among the many items on our trip agenda. I hope you follow our trip as it unfolds via this blog.

A Fresh Beginning

Welcome to the IAFR Kenya blog! This is where you can get a front row seat to the work of IAFR in Kakuma refugee camp in remote northwestern Kenya.

Due to some technical issues, we lost the content of the original Kenya blog that shared updates, photos and videos from our work in Kakuma going back to 2011. As much as we regret that loss, we are happy that we can start with this new blog.

Thanks so much for following our work and for supporting us with your prayers and financial donations that make this ministry possible!