09 Feb Providing Mobile Sessions in Zambia’s Mayukwayukwa Refugee Camp

By: Joseph Kabiru and Patricia Njuki

The COA permanent training site in Nairobi, Kenya, acts as a regional hub covering a large administrative area consisting of 14 countries. In order to reach all Canada-bound and travel-ready beneficiaries, COA Kenya regularly organizes mobile training missions to distant locations, including a number of refugee camps. During fiscal year 2013-14, nearly 30 percent of participants trained through COA Kenya were camp-based refugees who received their orientation in refugee camps or were transported to Nairobi for the COA session. The below article recounts a mobile session that took place in November 2014. It was organized for a group of 30 visa-ready refugees in Zambia’s Mayukwayukwa Refugee settlement camp.

Patricia Njuki

COA Facilitator

Established in 1966, Mayukwayukwa is one of the oldest refugee settlements in Africa. It is located in the Western Province of Zambia, about 600 kilometres from the capital, Lusaka. The Mayukwayukwa camp is home to approximately 15,000 refugees from Angola, Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, Burundi and more recently, from South Sudan.

For the COA Refugee Facilitator, Ms. Patricia Njuki, the planning of this session had started several weeks prior. On the morning of November 27, together with Mr. Jonathan Chisamba from IOM Zambia, Patricia began the nine-hour long drive from the capital of Zambia, Lusaka, aboard a four-wheel drive vehicle equipped to tackle the rough terrain.

With soaring temperatures and very basic structural amenities, the settlement camp did not offer adequate facilities for the orientation. “Luckily, a nearby primary school offered a welcoming shed; though very basic, without electricity and proper windows,” reports Patricia.

I was well-prepared for this mission, as it was my second time in Mayukwayukwa. I had a portable, petroleum-propelled generator which provided power and a white cotton bed sheet tied across two rods that served as an instant wall screen for the projection of our audio-visual materials. We also purchased thick black plastic sheets through a local market to cover the classroom windows.”

“In the initial set-up phase, we also designated a nearby space that could be used as a child-minding area, and found reliable child-minders – mostly older teenagers within the refugee community – to look after the kids while parents and age-eligible children (12 and up) would attend the COA session.”  

With the training room secured and ready, Patricia proceeded to plan for food and water to be supplied to the participants during the training session. “A group of local camp women were hired to do the daily cooking and they did it splendidly,” adds Patricia. “Providing snacks and water is essential in a camp setting. Otherwise, people might not attend the session. Obviously, it also greatly impacts on their concentration during the three-day orientation.

Over the course of the orientation session, refugee participants were provided with information ranging from geography and weather, political systems, rights, freedoms, responsibilities and obligations, travel tips, housing, health care, employment, education and cultural adaptation. Participants were also briefed on specific post-arrival resettlement services for Government-assisted, Privately-sponsored, Visa Office-referred and/or blended cases refugees.

With years of isolation soon to be behind them, refugee participants were generally very engaged, and asked many questions. “In remote camps, refugees typically have a limited understanding of the Canadian culture and society, coupled with unrealistic expectations of settlement and life in Canada,” Patricia said.

In many cases, refugees have been misinformed or have not considered all factors related to their integration in the Canadian society and Canadian labour market. Since this lack of information can potentially hamper successful settlement and integration, COA provides accurate and up to date information and resources to empower refugees and help them make informed settlement decisions. This is done through presentations, videos, multi-media tools, group discussions and activities.

Reflecting on the mission, Patricia mentions: “the support of our colleague from IOM Zambia was indispensable. He assisted in the planning of the orientation session, arranged countless logistical details and greatly facilitated the provision of supplies. We carried as much as we could from Lusaka: charcoal, re-usable plastic plates, dry food items, frozen meat and even water. Nothing was left to chance.

We are really grateful to IOM for going to extreme lengths to ensure that we have the information and skills necessary to adapt to our new society and culture in Canada,” said a COA participant who spoke on behalf of the larger group at the end of the session.

Attending this orientation and learning about Canada made me feel as if I was there already. I believe that the training will help me integrate faster into Canadian society,” added another participant.

All 30 participants have since departed Zambia to be resettled in various locations across Canada.