Nyathioma Njehu, who was born in Nairobi, completed her secondary education in Nairobi before attending the United States International University where she obtained first a BA Psychology (Cum Laude) and later a post-graduate diploma in Global Social Sustainable Enterprise. During her studies she also worked on gender violence and drug rehabilitation issues in Kenya.
Following graduation, she joined the Refugee Consortium of Kenya in their Dabaab office as a psychosocial support officer, later to be appointed the lead Psychosocial Counsellor for the Danish Refugee Centre in Dabaab. In 2019, she was appointed as the Mental Health and Psychosocial Support Project manager with Medair, in a refugee camp in Leer, South Sudan. In this role she worked as part of a multi-cultural and technically diverse team to develop, lead, monitor and evaluate assigned projects. She also managed and trained local staff to meet international quality standards in mental health care delivery.
Nyathioma recently addressed local Rotarians from Staines, Chertsey and Shepperton on her experiences of working with refugees both in Dabaab and Leer. She explained that over half the refugees in the camps were children, all victims of poverty, conflict, hunger, malnutrition and poor education. She said that over the past decade there had been a deterioration in the Global Peace Index with 78 of the 163 countries measured showing evidence of conflict.
The Debaab refugee complex is situated on the Kenya/Somalia border; it was set up in 1991, initially with 90,000 Somali refugees. By 2011, this had increased to 460,000, becoming the largest camp in the world, with refugees from Ethiopia, Somalia, Rwanda and others. Numbers have since reduced to around 220,000 through voluntary repatriation and to other camps further away to protect from terrorist intrusion. The Camp is now home to generations of families who have known no other life, a life of living on the brink.
South Sudan gained independence in 2011, and has a population of some 11m people of which c.4.2m are displaced. It is listed 160/163 on the Global Peace Index. By 2013, the country was embroiled in a civil war which continues; officially, a cease fire is being observed between the warring parties, but flashpoints persist, and the conflict is now at, or close to the worst it has been.
Both camps suffered and continue to suffer from high levels of child mortality brought on by a combination of Malaria, hunger, poor health and poor sanitation. Nyathioma painted a picture of desperation and destitution, despite the best efforts of the aid workers to assist the refugees, but until peace returns to the region, this is unlikely to significantly change, she suggested.
Nyathioma said she lived with the constant threat of violence and armed incursion by the warring factions and was always accompanied by armed police around the camp. She lived in a heavily protected compound.
Nyathioma said that despite the difficulties faced, once she has completed her post-graduate degree, she intends to return to continue her humanitarian work in the region.
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