A couple of weeks ago, I attended a meeting with other QEScholars at the Canadian High Commision to introduce ourselves to the High Commissioner and discuss how our current internships are going. All of the Scholars that were present are interning at an agency or organization in Kenya, mostly in Nairobi. I found out that the majority of the interns are working for the Agha Khan University Hospital (AKUH), conducting research on various health-related aspects. The most interesting project that I heard from the interns at AKUH was that they were doing research on breast cancer.
There were about two of us who are doing our internship at the United Nations; however, the other is currently working at UNICEF, while I work at UNOPS. Two other fellow QEScholars are actually living and working Juja, a town about an hour away from Nairobi. They are on a mission to perform lab research and promotion on a program involving the sale of probiotic yogurt that will help to empower local community members and to implement a sustainable business model for the program. Others were completing their master’s degree here in Nairobi through the QES program.
It was interesting to see the amount of diversity that was apparent when meeting the different interns. Many are Canadian-born, but come from different ethnicities or were born in countries other than Canada. Two of us interns were born in Latin countries: I was born in Mexico and another intern in Venezuela. She has only been living in Canada for about a year and she is already so knowledgeable on Canadian customs and history! Moreover, another intern has roots in Mexico also, since her parents are from there and because she lives in Montreal, she is able to speak not only French and English, but also Spanish. I also met another intern born in India and two in China. Surprisingly, there were two master’s degree students who are from Kenya but studying in Canada and doing some of their research here in their home country through the program.
Not only are our cultures diverse, but so are our university degrees. I study criminology and look into going to law school, while another intern is studying medical sciences and is aiming to attend medical school. There are also interns who are in a business degree and some that study political science. This program is not just aimed towards students who are working towards a degree in global development; it is also offered for students who have a number of different passions, but that all revolve around improving the state of their host country and the world.
The Queen Elizabeth Scholarship is an important way of establishing and maintaining connections with Commonwealth countries and to enhance our own individual studies by immersing ourselves in different learning environments. Each of us at the meeting that day was proud to represent Canada and our universities.
We went around the table talking about the work we have been doing at our internships and the High Commissioner also spoke about her life and her experience working as a diplomat in many countries around the world. Of course, many of us had questions for her and one of the questions asked was what has been the most difficult thing she has had to go through in Kenya. After a little bit of pondering the question, she answered that the most difficult part is seeing the large number of refugees coming into the country and witnessing how their situation is extremely stressful and painful.
By the end of January of 2018, the number of refugees in Kenya was 486,460, where more than half originated from Somalia (United Nations High Commission for Refugees [UNHCR], 2018). Twenty-three percent are from South Sudan and the rest from various countries such as the Congo, Ethiopia and Rwanda. The majority stay in a refugee camp called Dabaad, which is, in fact, one of the world’s largest refugee camps that hosts over 235,269 refugees (UNHCR, 2018). In comparison, the number of people in Canada who have claimed refugee status as of January of 2017 was 40,081 (Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, 2018).
The High Commissioner expressed that sometimes the people one meets in their daily lives, such as a taxi driver or a cashier at a grocery store, could have come from a war-torn country and are now refugees in Kenya. However, no one really understands what they could be going through and what they had to endure to finally establish themselves in a safer country. Therefore, it is important to understand this and be able to respect everyone, especially since we are from a different country and this is relatively new to us.
Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada. (2018). #WelcomeRefugees: Key figures. Retrieved from https://www.canada.ca/en/immigration-refugees-citizenship/services/refugees/welcome-syrian-refugees/key-figures.html
United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. (2018). Dabaab Refugee Complex. Retrieved from http://www.unhcr.org/ke/dadaab-refugee-complex
United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. (2018). Figures at a Glance. Retrieved from http://www.unhcr.org/ke/figures-at-a-glance