JRS started working in Eastern Africa in the early 1980s, providing food, shelter and medical aid to thousands of people displaced by war and famine in Ethiopia. In the early 1990s, the JRS Eastern Africa region was established and gradually grew in size and scope. Today, JRS Eastern Africa works in 13 projects across five countries (Ethiopia, Kenya, South Sudan, Sudan and Uganda) with a focus on education, psychosocial counselling and peace building.
In 2014, JRS Eastern Africa served nearly 50,000 forcibly displaced people from countries such as Eritrea, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Rwanda, Somalia and Sudan, as well as many others. JRS Eastern Africa works in partnership with UN aid agencies, NGOs and the local church. The regional office is based in Nairobi, Kenya.
Eastern Africa has long been home to large refugee populations. JRS is active in camps, cities and places to which refugees have returned after their time in exile. In the capital cities of Addis Ababa (Ethiopia), Kampala (Uganda) and Nairobi (Kenya), JRS works with urban refugees who face constant struggles given the poor living conditions, insecurity and barriers to finding legal employment.
In the camps of Kakuma (Kenya), Melkadida and Dollo Ado (Ethiopia), Mellit (North Sudan) and Doro, Batil, Gendrassa, and Kaya (South Sudan), JRS works with refugees and IDPs who have fled conflict, drought and oppressive political regimes. Once in a camp, refugees often feel trapped by their situation. JRS responds by offering them new skills through a range of educational programming, as well as recreational activities and psychosocial counselling.
Furthermore, JRS Eastern Africa also works with former refugees in who have returned home to Yambio county in South Sudan after many years in exile in Uganda or internally displaced within Sudan. Due to decades of conflict, most of the infrastructure in Yambio was destroyed. JRS addresses these needs through the construction and renovation of schools, educational support, teacher training, pastoral work and peace building.
Previously, JRS Eastern Africa worked in a number of other projects around Eastern Africa, including: extensive education work in Adjumani District, Uganda from 1993–2008 and Rhino camp in Uganda; work with internally displaced people in Kitgum, Uganda; work in Chabalisa and Kibondo, Tanzania and the successful Radio Kwizera in Ngara, Tanzania.
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In Eastern Africa, home to large refugee populations, JRS is active in camps, cities and areas of return in four countries. In the capitals of Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda, JRS feels increasingly called to help urban refugees, whose predicament poses huge challenges in terms of numbers, poor living conditions and risks faced. At the same time, JRS carries on its long-standing commitments; one is to accompany the Southern Sudanese as they rebuild their country, with education projects reaching some 55,000 people. And in a region vulnerable not only to manmade but also natural disaster, JRS recently set up a project in camps in Dollo Ado, Ethiopia, responding to Somali refugees who fled drought and hunger in 2011.
This new work is reminiscent of the beginnings of JRS in the region; one of our earliest commitments was in Ethiopia, assisting thousands of people displaced by war and famine. The presence of JRS quickly spread across Eastern Africa, where a JRS region was established in 1990. There was no shortage of work. In the 90s, JRS responded to the needs to refugees flowing out of Sudan and escaping genocide and wars in the neighbouring Great Lakes region, among others. The education programme in Uganda – where JRS went in 1993 – would become one of the largest ever of JRS.
As peace dawned in southern Sudan and northern Uganda, JRS adapted its projects to respond in the best possible way to the needs created by changing circumstances. When Sudanese refugees returned home, JRS expanded its work in southern Sudan to embrace returnees as well as IDPs – large education projects are under way, pastoral care and peace-building. JRS also offers adult literacy classes in Mellit, Darfur. And in northern Uganda, JRS now accompanies people returning to their villages after years of internal displacement due to the conflict between the army and the rebel Lord's Resistance Army (LRA). Reconciliation plays a key role in this work.
Elsewhere, in countries like the Democratic Republic of Congo, Somalia and Eritrea, chronic conflicts, persecution or drought continue to push thousands of people to flee. Many refugee camps are overcrowded, and more and more asylum seekers are heading for cities – in Nairobi alone, there are 100,000 refugees – where they constantly face protection risks and poor living conditions.
JRS has well-established projects in Nairobi, Kampala and Addis Ababa, welcoming urban refugees and offering language classes and other educational and recreational initiatives, income-generating activities, emergency aid, legal and social services.
For several years, JRS has run projects in Kakuma camp, north-western Kenya, focusing on education, counselling, and care for people with special needs and survivors of sexual and gender-based violence. In 2010, Kakuma became one of the pilot sites for an exciting distance-education project launched by JRS in partnership with Jesuit universities in the US.
In 2010 and 2011, JRS started working in two other camp settings, both in Ethiopia: Mai-Aini camp for Eritrean refugees, and the camps at Dollo Ado, mentioned above.
Ethiopia: Keeping hope in the children
Mai Aini, 21 February 2017 – Osmaan* has spent his entire life building from the ground up. Born into a farming family in what used to be northern Ethiopia, he later moved to Sudan, working for American oil companies, digging to the depths of Sudan’s oil fields.
Kakuma: psychosocial care for vulnerable children
Kakuma, 3 January 2017 – Children in the context of a refugee camp, an urban setting, or any other location around the world fall into a category of individuals who are extremely vulnerable. Simply looking at their status in the world will identify that. They are unable to make decisions on their own, and have to depend on others in order to survive.
Ethiopia: Refugees create global conversations with art
Mai Aini, 6 September 2016 – Between two mountain ranges in northern Ethiopia, dozens of young Eritrean refugees are splattered in paint. They spend their days expressing their longing for lost loved ones, traumatic memories of persecution and stories of family and friends who have taken perilous journeys across deserts and seas in symbolic artwork.
Kenya: helping staff and refugees self-heal from trauma
26 August 2016, Nairobi – For communities living in conflict, cycles of violence pervade their everyday lives. For many refugees, escaping that trauma and healing psychological scars are incredibly difficult, but are just as important as securing food, medicines and a safe place to stay.
Uganda: sketches, colours, patterns, and a new life
Kampala, 1 August 2016 – As a young girl, Agnes fled a notorious Ugandan rebel group, the Lord’s Resistance Army, but through educational opportunities she was able to pursue her passion for fashion. She now gives back to refugees as the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) fashion and design teacher in Kampala – where they work to be self-reliant.
Democratic Republic of Congo
United States of America
Central African Republic