Representatives from Jesuit Refugee Service advocacy, programs, and communication teams representing more than 20 countries gathered in Nairobi, Kenya in October for JRS’s Global Advocacy Workshop.
As JRS’s global mission is to accompany, serve, and advocate on behalf of all those forced to flee their homes, this week of planning, learning, and being in community with global colleagues, created a strong foundation for cohesive, long-term advocacy work.
“These opportunities to gather together cannot help but be inspirational,” said Giulia McPherson, Vice President of Advocacy and Operations at JRS/USA. “It’s always wonderful to spend quality time together and I felt an overall renewed investment in JRS’s advocacy work.”
Spearheaded by the JRS International Office, colleagues met in Lisbon, Portugal earlier this year to establish advocacy subgroups. Those subgroups each focused on different areas in need of advocacy work and developed analysis papers throughout the summer.
In Nairobi, the gathered staff spent a day and half narrowing down the focus areas to three main issues: education, mental health and psychosocial support (MHPSS), and access to territory and legal status.
“We really got to coalesce around shared priorities that we are working towards,” Giulia said. “This work is meaningful. Without it, we cannot make the sustainable, long-term solutions JRS staff are working towards.”
These three priorities will help create a global framework and action plan over the next five years to unify and strengthen JRS’s advocacy work.
In the short-term, JRS is sending a delegation to the Global Refugee Forum in Geneva this December and staff in JRS Asia Pacific are preparing a campaign marking two years since the coup in Myanmar.
Kunanyaporn Jirasamatakij (Git) is the Advocacy and Communications Officer for the JRS Asia Pacific Region. She was grateful to learn more about her global colleagues’ work throughout the week.
“Some of us might not know how rich and diverse our stories are across JRS, now we have established relationships and know how special of a community we are,” she said.
The JRS office in Nairobi prepared saplings for each country represented at the workshop so that everyone could plant a tree, symbolizing the roots they were growing that week for fruitful advocacy work.
“As an international organization, it is important to have a place to meet in the middle where we can all work together,” Git said. “This was a good starting point to strengthen the advocacy branch of our mission.”
The JRS/USA office was able to offer significant support in adding concrete input and provided technical expertise throughout this process and during the workshop. Katie Mullins, Sr. MHPSS Specialist at JRS/USA, joined Giulia McPherson in supporting the focus group on MHPSS.
“How we do our advocacy work in the US is helpful,” Giulia said, expressing JRS/USA’s role in developingJRS’s global advocacy objectives. “Colleagues look to us for that expertise because of what we have accomplished here in the US.”
On the third day of the retreat, workshop participants met with refugee students from the JRS community in Nairobi. They expressed the human impact of advocacy work and specifically outlined the three major advocacy items as some of the largest impacts to their growth and healing.
“It was great to see that where we landed with our advocacy priorities really resonates with the needs articulated by refugees,” Giulia said.
During the workshop, Tevfik Karatop, JRS Canada Outreach Officer led participants through ON THE MOVE, a program that asks participants to adopt the story of a refugee that has worked with JRS. Participants then follow in that refugees’ footprints, understanding the difficult decisions they had to make and ultimately learn where they are now.
“The experience diversified our thoughts,” Git said. “It made us think more about the great details and decisions refugees have to make.”
The deeply meaningful exercise further proved how integral advocacy work is to the long-term success of JRS’s mission.
JRS’s focus on Advocacy will continue to develop around the world over the coming years, especially after the unified efforts culminating in the Nairobi workshop. If you want to get involved with JRS/USA’s advocacy work, visit this page.