On the morning of 25 November, IOM’s Canadian Orientation Abroad (COA) Nairobi-based facilitator, Patricia Njuki, embarked on an important mobile mission to Zambia’s Mayukwayukwa Refugee settlement camp. Established in 1966, Mayukwayukwa is one of the oldest refugee settlements in Africa.
Mayukwayukwa is in the Western Province of Zambia, about 600 kilometres from the capital, Lusaka. The Refugee settlement camp is home to refugees from Angola, Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, Burundi and recently, from South Sudan.
Her mission was to provide a three-day pre-departure orientation, on 28-29 November and 01 December, to 30 refugees who had recently been accepted for resettlement to Canada.
“The COA Kenya operation, in IOM Nairobi, covers a large administrative area, comprising of 14 countries from the Horn of Africa to South Africa,” Ms. Njuki explains. “As a result, COA trainers often need to organize training missions outside of Kenya, throughout eastern and southern Africa in order to reach all Canada-bound and travel-ready beneficiaries. Countries where such mobile training missions are held include: Djibouti, Eritrea, Kenya, Uganda, Burundi, Rwanda, Tanzania, Malawi, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Namibia, Botswana and South Africa.”
“In the course of a three-day long pre-departure orientation session, refugee migrants are provided with information ranging from geography and weather, political systems, rights, freedoms, responsibilities and obligations, travel tips, housing, health care, employment, education, cultural adaptation among other topical issues,” said Ms. Njuki.
In addition, the refugees are briefed about the post-arrival resettlement services as they pertain to their specific refugee categories (whether they are Government-assisted, Privately-sponsored, Visa Office-referred and/or Blended cases).
On 27 November, Ms. Njuki, together with Mr. Jonathan Chisamba, a colleague from IOM Zambia, began their nine-hour long drive from the capital of Zambia, Lusaka, aboard a four-wheel drive vehicle to tackle the rough terrain. “The nine-hour drive from Lusaka to Mayukwayukwa Refugee settlement camp took us through the Zambian savannah, and alongside the Zambezi River, one of Africa’s longest and largest rivers, flowing into the Indian Ocean. We marvelled as we drove through Kafue National Park, Zambia’s largest animal sanctuary, as a parade of elephants took their afternoon drink, as warthogs enjoyed a mud bath at the edge of the river and as zebras grazed on the green plains.”
The reality at the Mayukwayukwa Refugee settlement camp was however not as welcoming. With soaring temperatures and basic structural amenities, Ms. Njuki needed to quickly identify a training venue as the settlement camp itself 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”.
“Well-prepared, as it was my second time going to this refugee camp, I had carried with me, from Lusaka, a portable, petroleum-propelled generator which provided power day and night, albeit the fact that it had to be used sparingly. A white cotton bed sheet, carried from Nairobi to Zambia, and tied across two rods, provided an instant wall screen for all COA projections.”
In addition, with the intent of blocking all sunlight from the classroom windows, some thick black plastic sheets were purchased at the local market. “This simple device provided the adequate darkness needed for proper viewing of our audio-visual resources (presentation on resettlement programs and services available in Canada, and of various COA Nairobi-developed Power Points on topics, such as African gangs, financial literacy, etc.
In this initial set-up phase, it was equally important to designate a play area for children and to find suitable child-minders to look after them while parents and age-eligible children (12 and up) were attending a COA session.”
With the training room secured and ready, Ms. Njuki needed to ensure that there was sufficient food for all participants and enough to last for seven days. “Well cooked chicken chops, kale, tomato sauce and “ugali” (a local area traditional dish consisting of maize flour and water cooked to the consistency of either porridge or dough) were a favourite meal combination among the participants. A group of local camp women were hired to do the daily cooking and they did it splendidly”.
“The IOM Zambia colleague, Mr. Chisamba, was indispensable. He assisted in the planning of the orientation session, and was very helpful in arranging the meals, determining which supplies could be found locally and which others needed to be purchased in Lusaka, ahead of our nine-hour journey to Mayukwayukwa camp.”
Nothing was left to chance. “We carried as much as we could from Lusaka: charcoal, re-usable plastic plates, dry food items and even water with us to the camp.”
Ms. Njuki is quick to point out that refugees, particularly in these remote camps, typically have a limited understanding of the Canadian culture and society, coupled with unrealistic expectations of settlement and life in Canada. “In most cases, future immigrants have been misinformed or have not considered all factors related to their integration in the Canadian society and in the Canadian labour market. Since this lack of information can potentially hamper successful settlement and integration, the COA project provides pertinent information and resources that will empower newcomers and provide them with a better chance of integrating successfully. This is done through various means: with the use of multi-media tools, Questions & Answers, interactive activities and group work. ”she adds.
For anyone moving to a different country where life and culture differs from their own, pre-departure orientation helps migrants to know what to expect when they arrive in the resettlement country. The primary purpose of the pre-departure orientation programme is to ensure the smooth adaptation of migrants in the initial period following arrival in Canada.
Much was accomplished and gained in this mobile training mission to Zambia. With years of isolation soon to be behind them, refugee participants were active, curious, positive, and they asked many questions. Nothing was either left to chance in terms of their information needs and gaps. All participants were very appreciative of the COA Nairobi trainer for coming to their remote location in Zambia, and very grateful to the Government of Canada for their caring approach.
“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, at the end of the session, on behalf of the larger group.
Another participant mentioned the following: “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”
A third participant added “I’m sure I will easily adapt in the receiving country following the training which I found so informative.”
All 30 participants have since departed Zambia and have by now resettled in various locations across Canada.