Kenya – Protecting refugee children, fulfilling and draining for lawyer

By Melany Markham Communications Officer, LWF Kenya/Djibouti

Kakuma, Kenya, 16 October (LWF) – Working as a child protection officer for the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) in the Kakuma refugee camp is both emotionally draining and fulfilling for Viola Ocharo, a Kenyan lawyer.

Deputy Child Protection Officer Ocharo admits that upholding the rights of the poor and the oppressed requires tenacity for those who work in north western Kenya for the LWF, a member of the ACT Alliance.

For the last five months, her work has taken her to Kakuma refugee camp where the LWF manages the Kakuma camp – home to more than 80,000 refugees. Many of them have made a long gruelling journey from conflict- and drought-stricken Somalia far to the east.

The LWF operates refugee care and protection programs.

Ocharo was based in Nairobi before she joined the LWF having undertaken postgraduate studies in human rights and transitional justice after studying child protection law.

She speaks of a long passion for protecting children and prays she will have many of her own to care for someday.

“Emotionally it’s draining, but also fulfilling at the same, and it’s very interesting,” explains Ocharo. “You meet different people everyday. You get to appreciate your life more.”

Viola Ocharo, a Deputy Child Protection Officer, who works for the Lutheran World Federation in Kakuma refugee camp, Kenya (c) Melany Markham/LWF 2011

There are two departments in the child protection unit – social protection and legal protection.

Social protection includes foster care for unaccompanied minors separated from their parents or who are orphaned. Foster care takes into account the child’s needs, religion, background, nationality, and the foster family.

Families who take in children are given assistance, such as blankets, kitchen sets, buckets, basins, plates, clothes and shoes. If their accommodation is inadequate, they will also be given shelter – a tent or a house.

It’s not always easy to find families for unaccompanied children who arrive at the camp.

Close to the LWF compound are some 40 Sudanese children living together. Children frequently travel in groups without their parents. Yet they appear able to look after each other. Because of this the LWF often cares for families headed by teenagers.

One of the most difficult cases Ocharo handled involved a father living with his 10-year-old HIV-positive boy. She had heard unproven accusations the father had mistreated the boy.

“I was shocked and surprised when the boy told me he did not want to live with his mother. He wants to live with his father because his father loves and cares for him,” Ocharo said.

The boy, who also had tuberculosis, told her when he was alone with her he gets the medical care he needs and is also sent to school. “When he told me that, I asked myself, ‘What must he be going through?’”

It hit her hard, “Here I was ready to take the child out of the father’s life.”

Ocharo realised the child really wanted to live with his father, who was doing his best.

The case illustrates how refugee camp problems are often complicated and solutions not always obvious.

The LWF has a paediatric counsellor.

Both the child and the father received counselling. So, instead of separating them, Ocharo gave them both the support they needed to get proper nutrition and for the child to stay in school.

“I think we do make a difference; because we monitor children a lot, especially children who are orphaned and vulnerable,” she says, noting that the LWF programs can also rescue children from early marriage.

“When you go back to check on them, their views about life are much different and you feel content with that,” notes Ocharo, adding, “We have cases of physical abuse, and sexual abuse is quite rampant in the camp.”

Yet she learns to cope, explaining. “You find one case that lifts your spirits up and you go on for another week or two …. You learn to appreciate your life and those things around you.”

This entry was posted in Development, Emergencies, Gender, HIV AIDS, Human Rights. Bookmark the permalink.

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