Yambio, 19 August 2018 – A 5-year-old girl was brought to the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) Safe Haven Centre in northern Kenya’s Kakuma refugee camp after being rescued from horrifying sexual abuse.
“Everyone thought she was insane because she was very violent,” recalls Felix Omollo who, at the time, was the centre’s coordinator. “Whenever she saw a man, she would grab a stone and begin hitting him with it. I myself was at the receiving end of her violence,” he remembers.
The JRS Safe Haven programme is a sanctuary for women and girls who have survived sexual and gender-based violence, and within five months, the girl’s mood had improved dramatically. This was a defining experience for Felix: “It taught me that the situation of the beneficiary can change from worse to better. That is why I still carry on with this work.”
Mr. Omollo is now the director of the JRS project in Yambio, South Sudan. At the invitation of the local Catholic diocese, the project supports education through the rehabilitation of school infrastructure, teacher training, and a scholarship programme for girls. JRS also organises outreach activities aimed at promoting peace and reconciliation.
After three years working with JRS, Mr Omollo says he has learned that humanitarian work is not just like any other work – it is a passion. One source of encouragement, he says, is hearing from his former JRS beneficiaries who have been resettled and are building new lives for themselves. He is able to carry on because he feels he is making a difference.
However, the work does have its own challenges. In Yambio, the main cause for concern is growing insecurity which can lead to anxiety. The hard part is “Putting yourself out there without knowing if you will return home,” he says, adding that “the humanitarian sector becomes smaller when the lives of humanitarian workers are threatened.” It can be very frustrating and stressful to be unable to go out and provide services to people in need because of insecurity.
On 23 July 2018, humanitarian agencies operating in Maban, Upper Nile State, were forced to temporarily suspend their activities and evacuate their staff from the area following attacks on NGO compounds by local youths. The attacks resulted in destruction of property, arson and looting of supplies destined for the displaced population. Reacting to the attacks, Fr Pau SJ, JRS country director in South Sudan, urged the government to bring the perpetrators to justice, adding that “JRS needs assurance that humanitarians will not be targeted again and that the rule of law prevails so that our team members can live and serve in a safe and conducive environment.”
In spite of this challenging environment, Mr Omollo would not have it any other way. “What motivates me,” he says “is…knowing that I have helped someone.”