NORCAP Head office staff, Elise Luhr Dietrichson, Helen Kape Peters and Eirin Ulleberg visiting a refugee camp in northern Uganda, 2018. (Photo: Emile Ntempera/NORCAP)
75 years of NRC

“It hurts to see a five-year-old weigh as little as a two-year-old”

Helen Kape Peters has experienced being forced to flee her home and knows what it’s like to go to bed hungry because there is not enough food. Today, she leads the Norwegian Refugee Council’s (NRC) global provider of expertise, called NORCAP, in Africa.


“I come from the Horn of Africa, an area with a long history of war and conflict,” says Helen.

Her parents are from South Sudan, but she was born in Uganda after her parents fled their homeland due to conflict. The family returned to South Sudan after a few years but have since had to go back to Uganda. Helen herself moved to Norway.

With an educational background in nutrition, she is concerned with the effect of war and conflict on people’s access to food. Her family has also experienced the connection between conflict and not having enough to eat.

“A number of times when we lived in South Sudan, we didn’t have enough food, especially when conflicts forced us to flee. My parents told me that, as refugees, they had no other way to get food than through humanitarian aid organisations.”


NRC works to support refugees and displaced people in over 30 countries around the world. Support our work today


Treating severely malnourished children

When she was in her twenties, Helen worked in a refugee camp outside the Sudanese capital Khartoum. As a nutritionist, she treated severely malnourished children at a mobile hospital.

"The children came in every morning to be weighed and receive food and medicine," she recalls. "Many of them were ill. They couldn’t speak or sit upright. It hurts to see a five-year-old weigh as little as a two-year-old."

"But when they start receiving food regularly, you see them get better. They start smiling and playing, and you can interact with them again."

Young Helen Kape Peters, Head of the Africa Unit in NORCAP's deployment section.  Photo from 1991. (Private)
Read caption Helen came to Norway when she was 22. This photo was taken just before she left her home country. Photo: Private

Working for displaced people

Helen has performed various assignments for NRC and NORCAP since 1997. Today, she is in charge of sending experts to African countries. The experts specialise in different fields, such as nutrition and food security, conflict resolution, peace monitoring, protection, education, financial support, adaptation to climate change, and reducing the risk of disasters.

"We work through other organisations to help displaced people. NORCAP consists of people with different expertise that we ‘lend’ to the UN or local authorities to help mitigate a crisis. For example, the UN may ask us if we have someone who can coordinate food distribution in refugee camps in Ethiopia. Then we go into our database, find a suitable candidate and send him or her on the UN mission," Helen explains.


NRC works to support refugees and displaced people in over 30 countries around the world. Support our work today


 

Internally displaced girls using their solar radio upon distribution. Mopti, Mali. (Photo: Alassane Guindo/NORCAP)
Read caption Displaced children in the Mopti region of Mali test solar-powered radios they have been given so they can take part in distance learning. Photo: Alassane Guindo/NORCAP

Anniversary

This year, NORCAP turns 30 and is one of the world’s leading global providers of expertise.

"Last year we sent people to 76 different countries," says Helen. "Right now, I am working on finding experts we can send to South Sudan to help protect children, on behalf of Unicef. In South Sudan, children are being recruited by armed groups, and we are sending experts to work to have the children released from these groups and get them back in school."

The Covid-19 pandemic has particularly affected the most vulnerable, displaced children or children growing up in areas affected by war and conflict.

"In the last year, many children have been out of school due to the pandemic. They have no internet, no computer, so they sit at home and do nothing," says Helen. "Without the opportunity to go to school, young girls are at risk of being married off, and boys have a greater chance of being recruited by armed groups."

NORCAP has people working to find out how children can best receive access to education, such as through distance learning via radio instead of over the internet.

NORCAP 30 years

This year, NRC marks 75 years of working for displaced people. Our global provider of expertise, NORCAP, also has an anniversary: it has been 30 years since, at the request of the UN refugee agency, the Norwegian Refugee Council and the Danish Refugee Council partnered to establish the world’s first global provider of civilian expertise.


Personal experience

"I myself have been displaced, and I have worked with displaced people. That experience helps me in my work," says Helen. "I want to be there and work for others who are going through what I have experienced myself."

It is important for Helen that the experts NORCAP sends out have respect for the people they are to assist.

"And that we, through the work we do, contribute to making the lives of displaced people a little better," she concludes.