“I’m not where I was at the beginning of 2017”

20 November 2017

Ndindi Ng’ang’a and her team at the Refugee Consortium of Kenya (RCK) assist approximately 100 Somali refugees at the Garissa region, in the North Eastern part of Kenya, every month by providing them with legal and psychosocial support. She has recently completed the Management and Leadership Skills Development Programme, delivered by RedR UK as part of the Talent Development Project. In this article, she tells us about her experience.

Ndindi, an Advocate of the High Court of Kenya by profession, joined RCK  as a legal officer in 2014 stationed at the Dadaab Refugee Camp. While in Dadaab, her main role was providing legal support and representation to refugees at the Dadaab legal aid clinics and in court.

Two years later, she was posted to head the Garissa sub office as the officer in charge. She leads a team of seven people: three programme staff, two support staff and two community workers. Garissa, due to its proximity to Dadaab refugee camp as well as being a migration corridor for persons from countries such as Somalia, encounters refugees on a daily basis with majority being from the Dadaab Refugee Camp and a few from the Kakuma Refugee Camp. Asylum seekers, economic migrants and trafficked or smuggled persons from Somalia and Ethiopia are also some of the migrants who travel along the migration corridor. The legal officers represent the migrants in court and at the police stations when they are arrested and charged with offences such as being in the country unlawfully or residing outside refugees designated areas, as well as liaise with other agencies such as the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the Department of Children Services, Save the Children and medical personnel for further assistance. The psychosocial counsellors provide counselling to the migrants to mitigate trauma faced during their journeys and other past experiences.

In her position, Ndindi not only manages RCK employees but has a duty to ensure smooth programme operations through referrals and networking with different stakeholders. Managing such a task can be challenging without  the right grounding, tools and information. Due to this, Ndindi turned to her line manager for advice and the latter suggested that she join the Management and Leadership Skills Development Programme, delivered by RedR UK as part of the Talent Development Project.

“During my first assessment, at the first workshop, I scored low marks with regard to my ability to resist pressure and cope in a changing environment,” she reminisces. ”My coach helped me to identify ways of easing the pressure, one of which is to delegate tasks to my team and trust that they are capable of handling the tasks successfully. What was key is that I learned to communicate effectively with my team regarding the changing environment in which we operate, and learned to inspire them to achieve results based on their own initiatives. I also learned to better communicate with the senior management when handling stressful situations.”

In order to effectively assist migrants in the Garissa region of Kenya, Ndindi and her team must collaborate closely with government agencies, international organisations and other NGOs. ”One day, there was a massive swoop by law enforcement officers at the Hagadera camp, which is situated within the Dadaab refugee camp,” Ndindi says. “The swoop was conducted by security officers to ascertain that persons residing at the refugee camp were genuine refugees. This had been triggered by insecurity incidents in the region. Over 250 refugees and asylum seekers were taken to Garissa and held at the police cells. The legal officers and counsellors worked tirelessly in collaboration with the UNHCR and the law enforcement officers to support in verification of the refugee status of the arrested persons. Due to the enhanced collaboration between RCK and key stakeholders – police, UNHCR and the Children’s Department – the arrested persons were all released from police custody after their registration documents were produced and verified therefore confirming that they were genuine registered refugees in the camp.”

”Without proper communicaion and collaboration with government agencies, there would be a breakdown of our services,” Ndindi explains. ”It is always a balancing act between offering humanitarian assistance and upholding the Kenyan laws. This means that we must collaborate particularly closely with government agencies, which includes regularly updating them on cases being handled by RCK, being transparent about our activities and inititiaves, and hosting joint training sessions on the protection of forced migrants.”

Even though she has now completed the Management and Leadership Skills Development Programme, Ndindi plans to continously learn and grow. She considers it essential to lead by example and believes that her team will get inspired to also grow if she keeps growing. ”I even began coaching one of my team members,” she says. ”As a result, she has taken on a series of initiatives within the community and came to realise a few of her own leadership strengths. She proposed holding empowerment sessions for the children at the Children’s Rescue Centre to not only inform them of the legal processes that they would undergo, but also help them cope with their current situations. She also managed to start holding regular conferences in order to discuss the children’s cases at the rescue centres, which will in effect create a ’live-in and exit plan’ for the children.”

Ndindi is grateful to her coach, Caroline Wanene, who she said inspired her to look inward and become aware of her own strengths, to challenge herself to grow and inspire others to achieve the same or even more.

“I am not where I was at the beginning of 2017” she concludes. “I find that I am able to remind myself more often of the ‘tools in my store’: constant communication with my team and senior management, mapping out strategies with my team, sharing experiences, delegation, strategic collaborations and use of the protection principles in all our work. I now use such tools in each and every situation when managing my vibrant team. I also have a clearer plan of what we want to achieve together.”

Ndindi’s coach, Caroline Wanene, recognises the impressive development witnessed in Ndindi’s professional and personal work. Well done to Ndindi. She equally notes the importance of leadership and management development initiatives and training for humanitarian professionals, particularly women, in their professional development and in dealing with the challenges of the 21st century.

The Talent Development Project is one of the 14 projects funded by DFID and the Start Network under the Disasters and Emergencies Preparedness Programme (DEPP). It was set up in November 2014 by a consortium of four agencies, namely the CHS AllianceOxfam and Relief International, led by Save the Children UK. The project was implemented in cooperation with Institut BioforceMzN InternationalRedRLeadership for HumanitariansOxford Brookes University and a number of specialist HR consultants.

After three years, this ambitious project, which sought to build the capacity and competencies of over 1,000 humanitarian workers in Bangladesh, DRC, Ethiopia, Jordan and Kenya, is almost completed.  This project also supported the DEPP initiative in its vision of transforming the humanitarian sector through building stronger networks and coalitions, and sharing learning on how best to improve national staff capacity in order to respond to emergencies better and quicker, and save more lives.