A Reflection by Jacqueline Fanta
Nearly every Global Development Studies student at the university level wishes to be involved in projects that can positively impact any community, especially the community they are connected with by birth and geography. There is always something about one’s origin that does not leave one alone whatever one does in life. It is not surprising then that I became one of those students who had this kind of project in mind on their ‘wish list’ from the start of my undergraduate programme at the University of the Fraser Valley (UFV). Then in the summer of 2021, I was happy to be selected to complete a virtual internship with the UN-Habitat Nairobi, Kenya, which allowed me to observe firsthand how global humanitarian problems were tackled at high levels. Indeed, this opportunity opened my eyes to many challenges facing Africa, and much more than giving me a sense of fulfillment, it generally sparked more interest in global development.
My teacher, Dr. Cherie Enns, always knew how much I felt towards humanitarian issues in Africa, and so when she offered me a chance to partake in a research project on food security for South Sudanese migrants living in Nairobi, Kenya, I accepted it with both hands. South Sudan, after all is my country of birth, and Kenya is the largest economy in the East African Region (Kibe, 2014). I had already had experience doing research locally through a directed studies course I took over the summer with Dr. Geetanjali Gill in 2022 but not internationally. An international project felt much more exciting, given that it would involve travelling to Nairobi, Kenya, to conduct it. Coming from a global student perspective, this is not an opportunity you come by easily, huge appreciation goes to the Research and Graduate Studies office at UFV, especially Kelly Tracey for making everything run smoothly.
Mifood project, also known as South-South Migration and Migrant Food Security: Interactions, Impacts and Interventions (2021-2028), was launched on December 13, 2021, by researchers at Wilfrid Laurier University (WLU) and the Balsillie School of International Affairs (BSIA), the Hungry Cities Partnership implemented it. The project focused on food security for South Sudanese migrants in Nairobi, Kenya, titled the Mifood project, was what I, with other students and my professor Dr. Cherie Enns was to embark on for the next few months since September 2022. The Mifood project focuses on the connection between migration and food in the global South. It poses several key questions which seek to understand to what extent migration is a response to food insecurity. It tries to answer whether migration leads to better food security outcomes for migrants and their dependents and what policy interventions might mitigate migrant food insecurity in migration, as well as the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on food security.
This project is special to me because it focused on South Sudanese youth migrants living in Nairobi, Kenya and their food security before and after the Covid-19 pandemic. Being a South Sudanese myself, this project hit home mostly because of the collaboration with a fellow country brother Mr. William Kolong who was the facilitator of the Mifood project in Nairobi. Mr. Kolong’s leadership and connections within Kenya played a great role in us attaining ethics and permits to carry out the project. Mr. Kolong’s story is quite inspiring by itself, apart from his skills as a leader.
He is one of the “lost boys” who were grossly affected by the war in South Sudan and were presumed lost or dead at some point. He is the founder and managing director of Pan Aweil Development Agency (PADA) which encourages South Sudan villages to be self-sufficient.
The way data was collected was through focus groups. These focus groups were three in total comprising over 40 youth participants, both male and female. The three focused groups were hosted over two days, and the participants were invited to share their food diaries, the challenges they faced in being food secure before and after the covid-19 pandemic, and what kind of assistance has been available to them. All focused group sessions were successfully held, and the participants had an opportunity to share what they had for us.
Like any other research project, we had a challenge of delay in the ethics approval in Kenya, which did not allow me to be present for the focused group sessions since my time frame in Nairobi was very short. However, I continued to support the team virtually. The team did an incredible job, and I am beyond honored to have worked with them. Working with a local community leader to gain permission for this research ethics, permits, an amazing artist Michael from whom we purchased his painting and Sherald a talented illustrator who captured the needs and themes presented by the youth, as shown below, was an incredible experience.
The graphic images below give an insight into the results of the discussions from the focus groups that were carried out between December 1st and 2nd, 2022
There’s an in-depth representation of the color, like the blue always represents the officials (UNHRC brand color) while the refugees are always in green apart from the focus group plus, the color theme changes from red to green if you slide through the parts. Red stands for the challenges and green frame for the solutions.
Projects of this nature can impact the lives of the affected people if the results can be shared and the recommendations adopted by donors and stakeholders. In the meantime, the team will hold donor meetings, share reports and strategies related to funding as well as work with Mr. Kolong’s organization and South Sudanese embassy in Nairobi in preparation for the final event coming up early in 2023.
Understanding the needs of the refugees could lead to better programming for the community. It is also beneficial to the research students like myself as it exposes them to the work field before graduation. Projects are also advantageous to the partnering universities, in this case, the University of the Fraser Valley and the University of Nairobi, by adding to the university’s partnership profile. This research was possible through the collaboration between the led investigators, Dr. Cherie Enns of the University of the Fraser Valley and Dr. Samuel Owuor of the University of Nairobi, not forgetting Cobby Achieng as a student of the University of Nairobi for all her contribution towards the project.
The project reveals the benefit of having youth at the Centre of decision-making for this case; they shared their challenges and suggestions for assistance that would empower them to sustain themselves as migrants in Nairobi, Kenya. The United Nations report on Youth and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development states that the active engagement of youth in sustainable development efforts is central to achieving sustainable, inclusive and stable societies by the target date (United Nations , n.d.) hence revealing the benefit of including youth in development. As a soon-to-be graduate, I am grateful for the opportunity, and the form of exposure Mifood has given me. I have come to appreciate food, especially affordable food and being able to access it.
Travelling to Nairobi and experiencing the city in less than ten days was a humbling experience starting with the hospitable people, the Swahili language, the wildlife, the city’s development and the tasty food. I will never forget that fantastic drink Dawa which helped me carry through with the cold I had gotten during my time in Nairobi. Mifood project gave me a chance to travel and reconnect with my family (mother and sister) after not seeing them for nearly six years.
This experience surpassed my expectation of what I had wished for as a freshman a while back when I had just joined the university. I understand and respect each country’s different procedures before research can be conducted in their country. The experience has taught me how crucial effective communication is, especially when working in a team. I have made valuable connections and built professional contacts, which I am so grateful for.
I have learnt to be on top of assignments and be organized, especially when I have a lot going on; for instance, travelling to Nairobi in the middle of a semester meant I had to organize and plan so many things ahead of time before my travel. I am confident that the Mifood project has improved my research skills and shaped me into a well-rounded person ready to take on anything that comes her way.
I am beyond grateful to Dr. Cherie Enns for such a great opportunity and her continued support, and I can now proudly say that the one wish on my wish list has been checked off.
Kibe, M. S. (2014, January 6). Retrieved from Brookings : https://www.brookings.edu/opinions/africas-powerhouse/
United Nations . (n.d.). Retrieved from United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs Youth: https://www.un.org/development/desa/youth/world-youth-report/wyr2018.html