It looks like a beach, but there is no sea. The dried out river bed running through Kakuma town is a hive of activity. There are goats, some dead and those that are alive are roaming and bleating in desperate search of water. Groups of adults and children dig down, deeper and deeper in the hope of finding some remaining pools. Mostly in vain. There has been no rain since November, when cruelly, so much came, so fast that it carried members of the community and their homes away with it. As fast as it came, it went and the river has since dried up. Kakuma is facing a drought.
Twenty years ago, the people here agreed to host a refugee community. Set up to serve 90,000 people, the camp is now home to over 185,000 with more people arriving every day. Resources are stretched to the limit but the people working here for the UNHCR are tireless in their efforts to ensure that every arrival is safe and cared for and that the local community in some way benefits from having a refugee camp on their doorstep.
We arrive on a small propeller plane carrying food supplies from Nairobi. Travelling and working with the World Wide Education Project (@wwepuk) getting here was hairy in itself, involving a nail biting trip through one of Africa’s largest slums in a desperate attempt to get to our plane. But we got here. As we walk to the jeep that has come to collect us, a local woman approaches. Her face is half eaten away with what we assume is leprosy. We have been told not to offer money – we would quickly be mobbed, but we offer some food we have in our bags. She gently places it on the footplate of our car. She cannot eat. It’s a grim reminder of what we are to face.
The aid workers at the camp are hosted near the entrance in one of two compounds. Ours belongs to the Lutherian World Foundation and we are immediately welcomed and taken to our rooms. They are clean and comfortable with running water and mosquito nets and I feel incredibly lucky given the conditions of the people living outside. The compound offers a safe place, with wifi near the offices and power for most of the day and a place where people can come together and talk. After dumping our bags, we are taken on a tour of the camp. The oldest parts of the camp have been around for 20 years and people have built a real community. There is the Somali area, the Ethiopian area and so on – people tend to stick together in their nationalities even here (as indeed do British ex pat communities). There is a thriving bustle in these parts of the camp. Trees have been planted, homes ingeniously made out of cardboard, tins, anything that can be recycled and reused is. Even for toys.
People have set up businesses – we even enjoy a coffee at an Ethiopian coffee house and buy fabric from a local stall. What was a temporary shelter has turned into a town.
But at any moment, these people could be repatriated if the wars in their home countries end, and for some, this would be worse than staying. Many of the recently arrived Sudanese refugees found themselves in this situation. They became established at Kakuma, and returned home when the war ended between the North and the South. Rebuilding a life back in Sudan was hard enough, but new war between tribes broke out and many of them are back. Starting again, with nothing to their names. It is this community that we are here to support.
We are taken up to the new area – Kakuma 4 and here is an entirely different story. There has been no time to plant and grow trees. Many of the people are in tents. And the new area of the camp is in a dust bowl. Within seconds of getting out of the car, dust is in our eyes, our throat, blowing the very ground up in our faces. The temperature is well over 40 degrees. We start to melt. And here are children. Thousands of them. In the two schools we are working with, over 15,000. Add the preschoolers (5-7) and there are 17,500. And look at their statistics.
Here is the playground for all these children
Tomorrow we return to teach them and to train their teachers. I don’t mind admitting, I’m daunted. Very daunted indeed. But we must try. Because like any other child, these children, many of them deeply traumatised and bereaved, need to feel like they belong to a community. That they matter. Education can serve one purpose – to make them literate and numerate, but it can also serve to give them a safe and secure place to be and can and should offer hope for the future. One way you can help is by donating to our classroom challenge. Relieving teacher to pupil ratios are a prime target to help these children. Even a couple of pounds will help.
You can text WWEP01 £3 to 70070 for a small but significant donation.
Or use our Just Giving page here and leave a message noting that the money is for the Classroom Challenge. https://www.justgiving.com/ww-ep
We will make sure that every penny goes into building a new classroom for these children. I’ll keep you posted and thank you.