Refugees gather in the new JRS multi-purpose hall for a sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) awareness-raising forum. (Mulugeta W Eyesus/JRS)
Dollo Ado, 26 October 2012 – Impressively positioned over a section of Melkadida camp, is the recently completed Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) multi-purpose hall. Built to provide refugees in Dollo Ado with a space for indoor sports, the hall is the largest building for thousands of square kilometres. Construction work has moved quickly over recent months, with a new school being the latest development.

JRS has been working in Melkadida since November 2011 to assist Somali refugees escaping conflict, drought and poverty through education and psychosocial programmes. However, construction has always been a top priority. In addition to the multi-purpose hall and school, a meeting hall, counselling block, offices, JRS staff quarters and a skills training centre have all been completed in recent months.

In mid-October, JRS officially handed over the newly-constructed primary school to the Ethiopian Administration for Refugee and Returnee Affairs – the school will provide education for 480 refugee children.

Melkadida is one of five camps in Dollo Ado on the Somali border, with a population of around 41,000 refugees. By the end of this year, JRS will have supported more than 12,500 refugees.

Building the structure for sport. "Around 80 refugees per day will take part in organised indoor sports activities in the new multi-purpose hall as they escape the intense dust and heat of the sun. Already involvement in JRS outdoor sports activities has far exceeded expectations with huge numbers turning out to play volleyball and football", explained Mulugeta W Eyesus, Dollo Ado Project Director.

The Melkadida football and volleyball leagues have attracted enthusiasm from refugees all over the camp. JRS holds athletic practice for two hours every afternoon for more than 200 participants and many more spectators. This regular activity has provided a focus and a safe outlet for the stresses of camp life, particularly for young people.

"We have noticed a marked improvement, almost 80 percent, in social interaction and positivity amongst the refugees who are members of our sporting leagues" said Mr Eyesus.

The leagues include teams from the Dollo Ado host community, as well as the camp teams.

JRS has provided two training workshops on football and volleyball skills, and a training session on football coaching. Fifteen refugees, who are now fully-trained coaches, helped officiate at major football and volleyball tournaments in January, March and May - bringing the community at the camp together.

Skills training classes are launched. A unique range of skills training classes were recently launched for adult learners. Training in tailoring, weaving, mat making and henna tattoo design have proved popular. Refugees take the classes in the new skills training centre which provides a cool environment away from the dust, heat and wind.

An attractive round building with a thatched roof was finalised in August and provides a meeting hall for drama and music activities. Professional workshops on acting and playwriting took place earlier in the year, and from now on these will be conducted in the hall. In addition, refugees will take part in workshops and training courses in counselling skills in the recently completed office complex.

Adult literacy classes have also been very successful. After nine months, the number of students who can read and write simple words in English has gradually risen to an impressive 70 percent. On 25 September, 400 students received certificates in phase-one basic literacy skills.

Looking to the future. In September JRS staff moved from tented accommodation to a permanent JRS complex with new offices and living spaces. One year on from the terrible Horn of Africa drought, which prompted the launch of the JRS Dollo Ado appeal, and the construction work is almost complete.

When JRS staff members first visited the camp in August 2011 to conduct a needs assessment, the construction vision was just a sketch on an architect's drawing board. But after months of planning and work by hundreds of local artisans, the project has taken shape.

Over the next months, refugees will reap the benefits of the new buildings and it is hoped that motivation, well-being and increased hope for the future will continue in an upward curve. Future plans include the building of a dedicated adult literacy centre.

Katie Allan, Regional Communications Officer, JRS Eastern Africa