Andrea Kiel’s Story, Kenya

Photo by A. Kiel/2014.

Photo by A. Kiel/2014.

This picture was taken just before my colleagues and I left the camp. Our bags were packed and the pilots were calling us to board the plane. In the photo, the Executive Chairman of Morneau Shepell, Bill Morneau, managed to squeeze in one last chat with some of our curious onlookers.

“How come you’re not in school?” he asks. The oldest boy responds back, “We’re on lunch break.” Before we turn to board the plane, I ask the little ones, “Would you like me to take a picture of you?” The boys’ faces light up with excitement. “Yes!” they all shout in unison. “Alright, say cheese!” The boys huddle together, posing in their own unique way with a contagious grin on each of their beautiful, smiling faces. This sense of love and togetherness clearly has a presence here that I have not witnessed in many of my other travels, and it’s certainly a feeling I will never forget. I take a moment to realize how lucky I am to be here on this mission to Kakuma, in northern Kenya.

The boys quickly gather around my phone to look at the picture, each laughing and playfully punching each other as they recognize the happy faces looking back at them on the screen. I can’t help but smile, feeling a connection with these innocent children, whom I feel like I’ve known for a lifetime.

“Are you leaving us now?” I turn to see a pair of sad eyes looking up at me through the barbed wire fence. In that moment, I feel like I’ve learned the true meaning of complete heartbreak. My eyes sting and I know it’s not the wind or the sand. “Yes, I have to go,” I sadly reply. In the distance, my colleagues are calling me – the plane is ready to depart and I’m the last to board. The little boy offers me a warm, consoling smile. “I’ll see you soon!” I want to reach out to hug him, but the barrier won’t allow it.

I remember looking at the metal of the fence and realizing how much more the barrier symbolized. Nobody deserves to be barred from having a safe place to live and to call home. Back in Canada, this is a luxury I know I have taken for granted. UNHCR’s mandate is to protect refugees, resolve refugee problems worldwide, safeguard their rights and well-being and ensure that everyone can exercise the right to seek asylum and safe refuge. What am I doing to help these children and their families? What can we do to make a difference?

As I slowly trudge back to the plane, I look over my shoulder and see all of the kids waving out to me and my fellow colleagues. I remember climbing into the plane and asking myself, “How can we fit over 132,000 refugees in here with us?”

Kakuma. For a place that means “nowhere”, there’s nowhere else I’d rather be than with these courageous refugees.

Andrea Kiel is a nominated Kakuma Ambassador for Morneau Shepell, UNHCR Canada’s largest corporate partner. She has been actively involved in marketing communications and fundraising efforts since the launch of their corporate philanthropic initiative back in February 2010. In February 2014, Andrea accompanied Morneau Shepell’s Executive Chairman, Bill Morneau, and six other colleagues on a mission to Kakuma to witness the positive impact their employees have made on the lives of the refugees in this refugee camp.

by Andrea Kiel, Canada
posted: Thursday, 19th June, 2014

1 family torn apart by war is too many

Learn more about our work with refugees at