David’s Story: Inspired by the courage of refugees

By David Odindo, Field Officer, UNHCR Kakuma Refugee Camp, Kenya

I was just a young lad with great expectations for the future [when I started working for UNHCR in 1993]. I was first assigned to work in an urban refugee settlement in Nairobi before moving in 1995 to Kakuma where I have worked to date.

I have gone through many ups and downs and I have had to make personal sacrifices that affected my family life. Humanitarian work is not easy, especially if you are a field officer and interact with refugees daily. It can be tough, even dangerous, when dealing with a group of frustrated, angry and discouraged people. It can wear you down emotionally and psychologically.

Sometimes I would feel depressed after listening to women recount horrifying stories about their ordeals in war-torn countries. It saddens me when I see refugees who I registered and assisted with repatriation many years ago, return to the camp as refugees again. It is heart-breaking when young children have to face life in the camp without a family because of conflict.

Refugees come to me, sometimes in extreme mental distress and I have to find a solution to their problems. As a result, I have done a lot of counseling for many refugee families. It is not something I was trained to do but I just learned that it was a necessary tool in refugee work. I realised that I had to be professional and level-headed so that I could be of assistance to them.

Refugees have taught me patience, humility, kindness and gratitude. I think they are the most resilient and courageous people. They deal with situations that would be difficult for any person to deal with. I am grateful for the experience and lessons I have derived from working with refugees. I think I am a better person as a result.

Refugees are just like you and me. They have emotions, dreams and aspirations. They did not choose this life. All they want is a smile, a listening ear, a shoulder to lean on and a hand to guide them through this unexpected turn in their lives. I feel that I have been there to offer all this to thousands of refugees who refer to me as ‘brother.’

My motivation has always been the look of gratitude that sweeps across a refugee’s face when I help them in any way. It makes me feel that this long road I have traveled has not been in vain. It reminds me of the expectations I had when I was just a young lad – to make a difference in someone’s life. That is more than enough compensation for me.

1 family torn apart by war is too many

Learn more about our work with refugees at UNHCR.org