Empathy simply means the ability to understand and share the feelings of others. Often, refugees and displaced persons go through horrific problems despite the geographical differences, the trauma associated with such displacement is felt by everyone almost in the same. Empathy has proven to be one of the critical means of peacebuilding in refugee camps as it strengthens the peaceful co-existence among the refugees and host community as well as among the refugees themselves, it has also reduced tribal clashes and allowed people to embrace diversity amid ever-evolving and intermingling of communities and cultural practices. In this article, we will talk about the role of Empathy in the Peace Building in Kakuma Refugee Camp.

Let us begin with a brief background of Kakuma Refugee Camp.

Kakuma Refugee Camp is located in Turkana West, one of the districts of Turkana County. It was established in1992 and some of the refugees who have sought safety and protection were the “lost boys” from South Sudan, it currently hosts over 20 nationalities mainly from South Sudan, Somalia, Sudan, Democratic Republic of Congo ( DRC)  to mention a few. The camp has been growing gradually both in size and in populations and according to UNHCR population’s statistics, as of July 2020 over 196,000 refugees are registered in Kakuma Camp and Kalobeyei Integrated Settlement.  Kakuma is a neighboring host community living in Kakuma Town.

Efforts to curb the possible conflicts in the camp have been put in place by both the government, UNHCR, and its partners that range from creating important and noble initiatives that empower the youth to be agents of social change, ambassadors for peacebuilding, and leaders with empathy. The overall camp leadership structures, youth-led initiatives that include the formation of Kakuma Youth Parliament a body of youth representing different parts of the refugee communities and host community that address local challenges by coming together and debating the issues and finding resolution before the matter is addressed at the interagency coordination meetings and Kakuma United a football team that represents Kakuma at the Kenya Division III level.

The use of empathy in peacebuilding strengthens the peaceful co-existence among the refugees and the host community. Essentially, refugee camps were created to provide temporary shelter and safety for the people who are fleeing from violence such as civil way but through the generosity of the people and the government of Kenya refugee camps existed more than decades not only to continue sheltering the displaced person but to an extent where the refugees are slowly but gradually find “permanent shelters”.

The use of empathy has enabled the refugees to be seen as potentially talented people, that can strive for excellence, for instance, the refugees run businesses in the camp that provide services that are essential ranging from food, “boda-boda” services as a means of transportation as well connectivity of both electricity and internet connections, etc.

This mutual understanding has enabled both the refugees and host communities to see themselves as partners rather than competitors. This has paved the way for the rise of talented young and adult entrepreneurs from the refugee community as well as the host community. While generally, we can applaud ever-growing business communities in the camp, often, the camp infrastructure deteriorates and discourages camp like Kakuma to maintain an emerging market for the residence of Kakuma.

Thanks to the continuous peacebuilding initiatives that exist at the camp level. Be it from the community structures, educational institutions, youth-led initiatives, implementing partners, UNHCR, or the government, peacebuilding initiatives have led to the decrease of tribal clashes.

Often, these types of tribal clashes were a result of misunderstandings based on cultural differences, things to do like language, scarcity of resources such as water, or even conflicts based on tribal lines. Using empathy in peacebuilding would lead conflicting parties to understand that implementing agencies are there to support them and solve the conflict in the best way that invites and encourages dialogue, tolerance, and together. This is only possible when we apply empathy as leaders, agencies, and at the government level. It is easy to find and see conflicting parties to bring them to the table, but with empathy, we can create an environment that reminds us of the collective commitment of finding and nurturing peace in the camp.

To embrace diversity, over the years, while it is true that sources of conflict could take different forms again both the refugees and host communities have embraced the importance of staying living together as the residence of Kakuma. One of the main sources of conflict could be the language barrier but over time the use of words that convey politeness and show empathy has become some of the most overused words spoken by the residents of Kakuma such as the use of Swahili words “Pole”, “Karibu” “Asante” in English, sorry, welcome and thanks respectively. These words have also been used to prevent any possible collision no matter the circumstance.

Despite belonging to different ethnicity or nationality both the refugees and host community work hand in hand to promote peace at all levels.


As peacebuilding is a work in progress. Applying empathy in the implementation of humanitarian assistance and response is crucial as it enhances the peacemaking process in the community. There is no doubt that empathy connects hearts and souls recovering horrific trauma and sometimes all they need is to reconnect empathy in finding peace and during peacebuilding.

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