Student heads to Kenya to work in refugee camp

Jackie Strecker’s bags are packed and she’s ready to fly to Africa this week for the second time in two years. Last summer, she went to Tanzania for three months to document a probiotic yogurt project aimed at improving the immunity of HIV-infected people. This year, she’s off to Kenya for one month to prepare student refugees for immigration to Canada. 

“So I’m already acclimatized,” says the 24-year-old master’s student who has completed the first of two years in the joint York-Ryerson Communications & Culture Program.  

Above: Julie Strecker stands between Masai friends during a field placement in Tanzania last summer.

This year, she and nine other Canadian university students were selected to go to Kenya by the World University Services of Canada as part of its Refugee Studies Seminar. Participants learn about life as a refugee by living in and helping out in the world’s refugee camps. Strecker and her cohorts are here today taking a two-day orientation hosted by York’s Centre for Refugee Studies before they depart later this week. 

Over the past 30 years, WUSC has sponsored more than 1,000 refugees who immigrate to Canada to pursue post-secondary studies. The non-governmental organization (NGO) raises money for the Student Refugee Program with the help of university chapters across the country. This year, it is sponsoring 57 students from Kakuma and Dadaab refugee camps in Kenya.

Strecker, a WUSC volunteer since her undergraduate years at the University of Western Ontario, will spend the next four weeks in Kakuma, a refugee camp close to the Sudan border. She’ll board at a United Nations compound for aid workers just outside Kakuma’s gates.

Part of her job will be getting to know the refugees who are immigrating to Canada and observing their pre-departure orientation. It will be an “eye-opening experience” meant to foster empathy for the student refugees who are leaving their families to get an education in Canada. Back in Canada, Strecker will be “one of the smiling faces” greeting them as they step off the plane.  

While in Kenya, Strecker will also complete a field placement under York Professor Amin Alhassan as part of her master’s program. She earned a BA in media theory and production at Western, and at Kakuma she will work with WUSC partner Filmaid International to train refugees how to document camp life on video and using digital cameras. The stills resulting from the project may become a touring exhibit used to promote and raise money for WUSC’s Student Refugee Program. 

Strecker raised $3,000 at Ryerson to offset the cost of her trip and is urging the WUSC chapter at the downtown school to participate in the Student Refugee Program. Both WUSC local committees at Keele and Glendon campuses have sponsored student refugees.

Returning from Africa won’t be a closed chapter in her life. After she finishes her MA, “in one capacity or another, I will try to stay in development and development communications.”  

For daily updates on her experience in Kakuma, read her blog.