From Nebraska to Kenya, researchers and students work together to fulfill a Grand Challenge

Photo Credit: Group in Kenya
Wed, 06/26/2024 - 12:04

A group of University of Nebraska–Lincoln (UNL) researchers and students are currently in Nairobi, Kenya to learn about forced migration-affected persons, families, and communities as part of the Pamoja Project. As part of a Grand Challenges Planning Grant, the UNL team partnered with Amref International University (AMIU) and Moi University (MU) researchers as well as with Umoja Refugee Creative, a Nairobi-based refugee-led organization. 

“Pamoja means ‘together’ in Kiswahili and is the bedrock of the project’s partnership approach,” Emira Ibrahimpasic, faculty member in global studies in the School of Global Integrative Studies (SGIS), said. “The international team captures the spirit of the Grand Challenges by collaborating across campuses and disciplines to explore how to address forced migration inequities—a challenge faced by many new Nebraskans.”  

Group in Kenya

Students at Umoja Refugee Creative.

Each member brings a different area of expertise and lens, enabling the team to tackle the problem from a variety of areas. Julie Tippens, faculty member in the College of Education and Human Sciences, leads as principal investigator. Jentry Barrett of Nebraska Extension heads the Outreach and Engagement Core; and Sonya Turkman, faculty member in the College of Architecture, leads the Research and Creative Activity Core. Representing the College of Arts and Sciences (CAS), Ibrahimpasic leads the Teaching and Training Core with Julia Reilly and Courtney Hillebrecht—both from the Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs program—rounding out the team. 

Five students from UNL accompanied the researchers to learn about the roles of refugee-led organizations in humanitarian response. CAS students Geonasha Agbeletey, senior global studies major, and Nyankoor Timothy, senior political science major, work with Ibrahimpasic. Both students are minoring in human rights and have a passion for refugee and humanitarian work. Three students from AMIU and three students from Moi University also joined the group. 

Group in Kenya

Students at Umoja Refugee Creative.

The purpose of the trip was to meet with Kenyan collaborators, including Alice Lakati, Lucy Njiru, and Patrick Okwarah from AMIU; Dulo Nyaoro from the Moi University Center for Peace and Reconciliation; and Jonas Ndayisenga from Umoja Refugee Creative. Research partners also study the physical and mental health of forcibly displaced communities and the policies that affect them. 

Within the broader framework of humanitarian work and health, students were interested in exploring the influence of the built environment on wellbeing, mental health and psychosocial support, and local integration opportunities. The students are based at Umoja Refugee Creative to learn more about these topics and present their findings to the team, AMIU faculty and students, and refugee-led organization partners. The students are getting hands on experience in fieldwork and research in an international setting.  

Group in Kenya

Listening session with leaders at Umoja Refugee Group.

The Kenyan research partners will visit Nebraska in the spring of 2025. The UNL team is planning a symposium to share about migration-affected communities and lessons in localized humanitarian response to support communities in diverse settings. 

The team will also take Kenyan partners to communities in Nebraska with high migration-affected populations to learn about the infrastructure and resources available and the experiences of these individuals and families. Nebraska is a key refugee resettlement location, and many forcefully displaced people/refugees are increasingly moving to rural towns across the state for employment. Kenya hosts more than 1.1 million displaced persons from neighboring countries due to conflict and climate change. 

“Nebraska and Kenya are perfect partners because they both host several of the same refugee populations, and many Congolese, Somali, and Sudanese refugees have reached Nebraska via Kenyan camps or cities,” Ibrahimpasic said. 

The overall goal of the project is to create a team that can work across disciplines, institutions and countries, to help migration-affected communities thrive in their new host countries by breaking down silos that have previously made this more difficult. 

Group in Kenya

Students from the University of Nebraska–Lincoln, Amref International University, and Moi University.