Innovative Partnership Lets Refugees in Kenya Make Their Own Food Choices

By Rachel Nusbaum,

Innovative Partnership Lets Refugees in Kenya Make Their Own Food Choices

The Westlands Branch of Naivas Supermarket in Nairobi, Kenya.

(HIAS Kenya)

Ask people about refugees and the topic of resettlement often comes uphelping those who have fled violence and persecution restart their lives in safety in a third country like the U.S. or Canada. But the truth is that less than 1% of refugees worldwide will be resettled in a third country. The vast majority will remain in the country to which they fled, hoping to someday return home, struggling in the meantime to make a life for themselves in their host nation.

HIAS Kenya works with many such refugees. They don’t know when it will be safe to return home, if ever. So they try to rebuild their lives where they are. Ordinary tasks, the stuff of daily life that so many of us take for granted, become important and newly meaningful. In December, to help their clients restore some normalcy to their lives, HIAS Kenya changed the way it provides food assistance.

In the past, such assistance was provided in the form of actual food. Baskets containing staple items like rice and grain were provided to clients every month. Now, our Kenya team distributes supermarket vouchers based on family size so refugees can go to the supermarket. Just like their friends and neighbors do. Just like they did, before they fled.

One client, the head of a family of six, told HIAS Kenya staff that his wife and daughter were able to shop for essential items with the voucher. He was especially grateful, he said, that they no longer have to carry around cash to go to the store; it is much safer for them with vouchers.

[[{"fid":"1575","view_mode":"default","fields":{"format":"default","field_file_image_alt_text[und][0][value]":"Supermarket Vouchers from Naivas let refugees shop for the food they want and need.","field_file_image_title_text[und][0][value]":"Sample Voucher from Naivas Supermarket "},"type":"media","attributes":{"alt":"Supermarket Vouchers from Naivas let refugees shop for the food they want and need.","title":"Sample Voucher from Naivas Supermarket ","style":"margin: 5px; float: right;","class":"media-element file-default"}}]]HIAS partnered with Naivas, a Kenyan supermarket chain, to implement the new program. “Naivas was a good choice for us because it is easily accessible for our clients. It has branches in areas where many refugees live and work, and they offer goods at competitive prices,” according to HIAS Kenya Director Lucy Kiama.

The first month, 72 clients received vouchers. By the end of January, more than 80 clients were using the new voucher system.

The new approach has “increased the client’s choice, self-determination and dignity,” says Kiama. “It helps urban refugees with local integration, to be able to go to the local supermarket just like their neighbors. Kenyans also buy vouchers like these, as gifts for loved ones. So it's not at all unusual for our clients to be shopping with them.”

Clients like the new system so much, they have asked that other assistance programs covering school fees, textbooks and school uniforms be handled in a similar way.

“I’m so happy to be getting these vouchers,” said one female client, who is currently nursing a 7-month-old baby, on a recent visit to the main HIAS Kenya office in Mimosa. “I’m not producing enough breast milk for my baby these days, but with the vouchers I can by formula milk so that my child will have enough to eat. This is really important for us. I’m glad to be able to choose to buy formula, which my child needs, instead of just receiving the items someone else selects.”

Click here to learn more about our work with vulnerable refugees in Kenya.

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