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I care for IDPs and refugees

By | August 28th 2011

LUCY KIAMA is the Executive Director for the Refugee Consortium of Kenya (RCK) where she works to raise awareness on the plight of refugees, IDPs and stateless people in Kenya and the region. The gender, sexual violence and human rights specialist spoke to SHIRLEY GENGA

I joined the Nairobi Women’s Hospital in 2004 as a social worker to support women and girls who had experienced sexual and physical violence.

LUCY KIAMA is the Executive Director for the Refugee Consortium of Kenya (RCK) [Photo: FILE/Standard]

After working for eleven months, I was promoted to Programmes Manager for the Gender Violence Recovery Centre. The centre provides free access to medical treatment and psychosocial services to victims of sexual and other forms of gender-based violence.

I worked there for four years and I came to comprehend the levels of violence in Kenya. It was heart breaking because 49 per cent of the cases we received were of children under the age of 16. We would get children as young as five months and women as old as 105 years. Young boys who had been sodomised made six per cent of our cases.

Working at the centre was heart wrenching and and at one point, I thought of quitting because I did not know how to separate work from my personal life. I would take home the pain from work and it began to wear me down emotionally. Fortunately I did a counselling course and it helped me learn how to be caring and sensitive at work but to also draw the line.

I learnt a lot and grew as a person. During my tenure, I advocated for the enactment of the Sexual Offences Act 2006 and was the key resource person, as I provided statistics to support the Bill. I also headed the campaign that educated the public on the dynamics, manifestations, prevention and response to gender and sexual-based violence. Our aim was to break the silence on sexual violence.

Career move

During the post-election violence in 2007, rape was used as a tool of war.

As we supported the victims, we realised that there were many gaps in the way different agencies were responding to the sexual violence crisis. Most hospitals did not have the capacity to deal with the situation. The national guidelines for management of sexual violence provided more for clinical care than psychosocial care and forensic management. That was what inspired my move to GTZ (German Technical Cooperation) as the Senior Programme Advisor for gender based violence and human rights in July of 2008.

During my tenure, access to medical treatment and HIV Post Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP) grew from 1,097 to more than 10,000 survivors. The number of survivors receiving psychosocial support had also risen from 1,097 to more than 110,000.

We helped develop a training manual for PEP and a framework for standards of care for survivors of sexual assault, which included manuals for trauma counselling and child protection. These would be used to train health workers and law enforcement agents.

While at GTZ, I supported the Ministry of Public Health and Medical Services to develop the second edition of the National Guidelines for Management of Sexual Violence, which was launched in April last year. The new guidelines provide for medical treatment, forensic management, psychosocial care and response to sexual violence issues during emergency situations.

I continued to provide technical support to the Nairobi Women’s Hospital Gender Violence Recovery Centre. I also worked to develop the capacity of gender based violence centres at the Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital in Eldoret, Kenyatta National Hospital and the Coast General Hospital. These centres provide free medical and psychological care to survivors of sexual and gender-based violence.

After GTZ, I moved to the Refugee Consortium of Kenya (RCK) in November 2009 as the Executive Director.

RCK is an NGO that works to promote and protect the rights of refugees, asylum seekers and internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Kenya and the wider East African region. It was initiated in 1998 in response to an increasingly complex and deteriorating refugee situation in the region.

Policy change

We employ a rights-based approach in advocating for humane management of the refugee programme in Kenya. This is not an easy job. Most times, refugees have been through a lot emotionally and are traumatised. Also within the camps, there is gender violence so we also give counselling to the women.

Now with the current situation on the ground at Dadaab Camp, there is a lot of work and often the staff easily get burnt out. Thus, my greatest challenge is in finding ways to keep staff motivated.

A big part of my work is advocating for policy change and development of legislation in line with international standards. Through research and information dissemination, we hope to raise awareness on the plight of refugees and IDPs in Kenya and the region.

I am working with the National Protection Working Group on Internal Displacement and we have supported the Ministry of Special Programmes to develop a Draft National Policy on Internal Displacement.

I work with the national taskforce that developed the Draft Refugee Policy and hope it will be adopted soon.

I also conduct international advocacy for the protection and assistance of refugees, IDPs and stateless

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