According to the UNHCR definition of refugee camps, “Refugee camps are temporary facilities built to provide immediate protection and assistance to people who have been forced to flee due to conflict, violence or persecution. While camps are not intended to provide permanent sustainable solutions, they offer a haven for refugees where they receive medical treatment, food, shelter, and other basic services during emergencies.” UNHCR, Refugee camps formed a new identity, and below I will highlight 5 things that the refugees in the camp such as Kakuma Refugee Camp cherish.
It doesn’t matter whether you are a new refugee, a former refugee, or a refugee currently living in the camp, you can resonate and cherish how refugee camps formed a new identity that includes diversity, culture, the past, youth, and Kakuma.
I will explain one after the other,
Refugee camps such as Kakuma Refugee camp continued to host different nationalities, the majority from the Africa continent these people bring in their rich cultures, while it is true that many of these people have many things they share in common again both their similarities and differences bring the best out in them. Due to this diversity found in the camp, a new identity has been formed, an identity that represents unity, peace, love, and togetherness inside a refugee camp. These people are open to learning and acquiring something new from other cultures as well they are friendly to teach some of their cultures to their fellow refugees.
The diversity I am trying to talk about in this article isn’t about how we look, our height, our accent, or what kind of celebration and festival we mark. I would like to pay close attention to the kind of diversity that has been quite remarkable; I am talking about how different communities view the role of youth and women in society, how they go about solving problems at a community level, how they do their wedding ceremonies or how they come together to attend the death of a loved one in their family etc
This diversity created a sense of brother and sisterhood in the camp, it is easier to see the refugees from different communities working together as teams and this interaction enhanced their unity to achieve a common goal. There are no boundaries or any sort of discrimination among the refugee communities and every team you meet will most like be a combination of at least 3 and more nationalities.
I was personally amused by the “Dinka culture” of South Sudan, particularly when they have a wedding ceremony and everything is going well. One of their traditions is to send the youth to the market and buy a cow, two cows, and sometimes even more.
These youth, who are about approximately 40-70 young men will take the cow(s) from the market to the village where the wedding is taking place while they are chanting some traditional songs/prayers as they escort these cow(s). Even if one is sleeping you could still hear the chanting from a distance and couldn’t resist staying inside the room. As these chanting youth grow in number the chanting goes loud and loud you will find yourself singing the same thing that sometimes you might not understand their meaning.
Another beautiful part of these cultures is that during anniversaries such as World Refugee Day or any other important events, all the different communities reside in the camp send representation from their community to showcase their culture at the event and I believe there is no better place to connect with their culture except during such events.
I found the “Nuer” culture as one of the most respectful cultures for the guests as well; I am talking about their hospitality and reception of people in their homes and communities.
I have also admired the Turkana people especially when you can communicate with their language.
I am surprised by Abaas one of the community leaders who can speak some of the languages locally spoken by ethnic groups living in the camp, I saw him speak with ease and confidence.
Refugees in Kakuma share a common history in the past, a history of fleeing their homelands, fearing persecution and threats. The uncertainty of going back due to the continued instabilities and memories of horrific pain and unwillingness to go back no matter how many years one spent staying in the camp due to the absence of strong institutions that protect and uphold the rights of everyone. But these refugees have also in common the refresh memories or wounds they and their loved ones have experienced such as the loss of loved ones, properties, and things that were dear to them such as their friends, neighbor, playing fields, etc.
But still, the refugees have something to share and tell beautiful things about their home country, for instance, they come together at bars, coffee shops, or even at the community level, while often, they encourage stories that promote peace and togetherness. It is always beautiful to eat together as a team and meet one of the best restaurants in the Ethiopian community and eat Anjera Ethiopia one of the favorite food of Ethiopians or Kisra, a delicious homemade South Sudanese food.
The majority of the populations in the camp are between 18-35 years of age, those who completed secondary schools are actively working in the community and are employed by the Nongovernmental Organizations working in the camp and UN Agencies. These youth are the backboard of the society, while there are limited spaces and opportunities for higher learning or scholarships often these youth maximize every opportunity. Given the high level of unemployment and lack of enough scholarship slots, you might find hundreds of applications for a single job opportunity. This sometimes leads to dejections of some of the youth in the camp after several failed attempts to secure an incentive job in the camp that would have earned him/her 50 USD a month.
The majority of these youth are employed by Lutheran World Federation (LWF) as teachers and others in the sport sector.
Youth has remained hopefully amid ever-growing unemployment in the camp as the COVID – 19 impacts have worsened the situation.
Kakuma has become a home to all refugees who needed one. A home that gives them temporary and rationed shelter, food, water, medicine, and overcrowded and long queues for distribution points or learning sites.
But Kakuma has been more than that, Kakuma produced talented refugees such as bright students who continued to perform well both at the count and national level, first refugee Olympic team in 2016 at RIO, notable politicians such as Ilhan Omar, Congress representatives, fashion and model such as Halima Aden, who revived and gave hope many refugees in the camps but also change the imagines of refugees at global arenas.
About three generations are either born or lived in the refugee camps forming a new identity proud of their diversity, embrace their culture, understand their past struggle, aware of their strength, and on the road to make Kakuma a better place than they found.
Refugees have many things to cherish, on their way to make Kakuma a better place than they found, Refugees could applaud how refugee camps formed a new identity that includes diversity, culture, the past, youth, and Kakuma.