JENNY SPENCER’S PASSION, EDUCATION, AND EMPLOYMENT LED HER TO KAKUMA REFUGEE CAMP IN KENYA; AN OVERCROWDED CAMP 185,000 REFUGEES CALL HOME.

Confident, self-assured and passionate about her work, 28-year-old Jenny Spencer feels blessed to have been born in Steamboat Springs, with a supportive family who believed in her and prioritized her education.

“Many people don’t have that. I think everyone should have those opportunities.”

Jenny attended the University of Colorado Boulder earning her degree in International Relations and obtained her Masters Degree in Applied Economics from Johns Hopkins University.  Jenny works in the research department of Kimetrica, a social enterprise based in Nairobi, Kenya. Kimetrica consults with governments, international aid agencies, and non-profit organizations, collecting data to help the organizations maximize their social investments in crisis areas. Through her employment with Kimetrica, Jenny combines her education with her humanitarian drive to make a difference in the world. “My generation has a universal yearning to do something that matters and to improve the lives of others.”

Kakuma Refugee Camp
Jenny Spencer volunteering at Kakuma Refugee Camp

In 2015, Kimetrica was awarded a contract for the Refugees Vulnerability Study in Kakuma Refugee Camp by the World Food Programme (WFP) and United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Jenny was a part of the study’s research team that traveled to Kakuma. Established in 1991 by UNHCR, Kakuma Camp sits in Turkana County in northern Kenya and includes four camp areas: Kakuma I, II, III, and IV.

The WFP provides food assistance in Kakuma Camp and is experiencing funding reductions due to increasing needs worldwide.  A general belief exists that not all refugees in longstanding (“protracted”) situations have the same needs and that some could take care of themselves rather than rely on the humanitarian community. The purposes of the Vulnerability Study were to understand: how refugees support themselves (their “livelihoods”); whether some refugees are more vulnerable than others; and whether the distribution of assistance could be adjusted so that assistance to refugees not needing the full package could be reduced.  To implement the study, Jenny’s team collected and analyzed socio-economic data gathered via door-to-door surveys, focus group discussions with camp community leaders, and interviews with key stakeholders.  Despite being from eight different countries, when the refugees were interviewed and asked if some could survive on less assistance, they responded in solidarity:

“We are all refugees.”

While working in Kakuma camp for two weeks, Jenny saw systemic failures despite the efforts of global organizations who are there to help.

“Our world is broken. We can see what is happening, and we aren’t meeting the funding needs of organizations and as a result, not meeting the basic needs of people.”

Once the data was collected and analyzed, Jenny’s team provided a report with recommendations to WFP, UNHCR, and other camp stakeholders so that they could make strategic decisions about their assistance. It is ultimately up to the organizations if and to what extent they follow the team’s recommendations.

While in Kakuma, Jenny attended a refugee church service.

“ I was struck that these are people that have fled their country, often on foot, lost friends and relatives and are hanging on with no way to support themselves. Despite their hardships, they put all of that aside. They still had joy, praised God. If they can have such deep joy, there is no reason we can’t put our circumstances aside and find joy.”

Jenny splits her time between Nairobi, Colorado, and Washington, D.C., but for now, she is living with family and loves spending time with them while continuing her work with Kimetrica. Steamboat is home for now.

Kakuma Refugee Camp
A market in Kakuma Refugee Camp

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