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Ubuntu — Compassion for humanity

At the Daycare Center in the Jesuit Refugee Service social services center located in Kakuma 1. Jesuit Refugee Service has been accompanying and serving refugees in Kakuma Refugee Camp, Kenya, since 1994. JRS works in the areas of education and psychosocial counseling and helps refugees to gain new skills in order to have hope for the future, no matter how long their stay in the camp. (Angelika Mendes — Jesuit Refugee Service)
Monday, January 14, 2013

(January 14, 2012) Kakuma, Kenya — When many people hear about refugees, their first image is that of 'vulnerable,' 'traumatized' and 'incapable' people who depend soley on external support to survive. The reality of things is that what many people think is not true. For me, refugees are people with the same abilities, personality and humanness like any other people in the world. One of the most important things I have learned as a refugee is the interconnectedness described by Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu as ubuntu, that a person is a person through other people. It is this compassion that I would like to talk about here.

On April 20, 2012, the rain started falling early in the morning where I live and work at the Kakuma Refugee camp. From where I live in Kakuma 2 to the JRS Arrupe Centre in Kakuma 2 is a walking distance of about 30 minutes. On that rainy day, I was not able to take a bicycle because of the mud and decided to walk bare foot to the Arrupe Centre. After wading in the mud for about forty minutes, I met a JRS staff member driving a vehicle who gave me a lift.

Compassion for others 

After only two minutes in the vehicle, we got stuck in the mud and were unable to move at all. The driver called for assistance from another JRS driver. As we were waiting for the rescue car, it is when I learnt of the power of ‘ubuntu’, that a person is a person even if he or she is a refugee or a patient in a hospital.

The vehicle had gotten stuck behind the Kakuma camp hospital where one of the patients was watching us. He looked weak and malnourished, probably from the disease that he was ailing from. He looked at us in the car through the hospital fence and said, "Habari (hello) my friend! I know you are struggling like me here in hospital. I can help by pushing the vehicle from behind." He was really serious and wanted to help.

The driver told him, "thank you, do not bother please, we will be fine." As soon as he finished saying this, another person came over and told him, "it is for each one of us to take your vehicle out of the mud." A third person came over and also offered to help. Then a fourth young man came, who was even ready to remove his shoes to assist.

The spirit of helping

We declined their offers for help telling them, "thank you very much but there is another driver who is coming to rescue us very soon." These people looked full of compassion, ready to help without expecting any payment and courageous enough to get the vehicle out of the mud where it had been stuck. This courage, compassion and helpfulness reminded me of 'ubuntu.'

Refugees are strong people who can help one another out of their suffering. Our identities are not only built on just one characteristic of being refugees. We are people working hard for the harmony of society and ready to help others in-spite of the fact that they also need help. That indeed is the spirit of 'ubuntu.'

The author is a refugee incentive staff member working for Jesuit Refugee Service at Kakuma Refugee Camp, and wrote the article after receiving training on Communications conducted by JRS in April 2012.

In Kakuma refugee camp, the work of the Jesuit Refugee Service staff in their delivery of the psychosocial and education programs would not be nearly so effective without the invaluable help of refugee volunteers, known as ‘incentive staff.' More than 200 volunteers have been trained by JRS to provide support to their fellow refugees in education, counseling and alternative healing.