The majority of the refugees in the camps depend on the rationed food and other services delivered by the humanitarian organizations operating in the camps who mainly partner with the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR). These refugees camps existed for decades today, the situation of the refugee’s camps has been getting worse due to Coronavirus (COVID-19), but thanks to the generosity of the Kenyan government and the international community for their continuous support, advanced humanitarian and international policies, and empower the refugees to live a life where they can reimagine and put in practice their skills to live in a dignified life, for instance, a small number of refugees are making living and support their families through entrepreneurship as this give them some sort of protection from financial wobbles, hope and physical activity that strengthen their mental health.
Some sort of protection from financial wobbles
It is worth remembering that refugees in the camp depend on humanitarian support even though these refugees stayed in the camps for more than 2 decades. Refugees don’t necessarily have the capital for startups that can give them additional support that will enable them to live a decent life.
Entrepreneurship enables protections of financial wobbles, aides fight against poverty and lack of decent livelihood, while the majority of the refugees depend on the rationed food assistance, a small percent of refugees engage in indoor small business, these kind of businesses are sometimes seasonal, others are operating a few hours in a day, while a few others are surviving due to the lack of low investment and overdependence as the families owning such business could have an extended family the owners of such business are facing bankruptcy frequently but certainly during COVID-19.
The interesting thing as well as the most beautiful part of these small businesses when they are working and are properly funded they bring some sorts of protections and financial stabilities to the families who are owning such small business that will in return assist the overall wellbeing of the household members, particularly the children and vulnerable members such as the elderly and girls. My observations are that children whose parents don’t have a small capital to start small business tend to miss schools, academically perform poorly and this leads them to drop out of schools and in some extreme situations due to peer pressure may lead to engaging drugs ( such as taking beer or chewing Khat or smoking) that could result from them committing crimes while some girls might be at risk of getting early pregnancy or been forced to marriage unwillingly.
UNHCR and Windle International Kenya do provide support to the girls from such families who do not have other means of income except the rationed assistance allocated by the World Food Program and UNHCR. Some of these girls are either given scholarships to a boarding school such as Angelina Jolie primary school or Morenuea Shapell Secondary schools that have spaces for a small number of students annually. A few other girls are allowed to attend remedial Saturday classes implemented by Windle International Kenya that are helping girls to improve performance and prepare them to help their families and the community after school.
Most of such families are led by single parents; some are unaccompanied minors or parents who are elderly and unable to provide for their children because of many reasons that include long-term illness, lack of financial support, and many people living in the household.
Entrepreneurship enables refugees living in protracted settings to have choices, these families can meet the needs that are not met by the organization working in the camp, they might decide what to eat and how many times they can have something on the table, it is unlikely to see their children going to school without shoes, or having their daughter miss classes because she is unable to buy a sanitary pad. Or they have one pair of uniforms for more than one academic year.
Hope is the one thing that the refugees and people displaced hold onto have remained as one of the most promising things in the lives of these people, there is no doubt that at times these refugees go to the brink of losing hope and a few others indeed lose it after years or decades of silence and suffering, after witnessing horrific and unbearable pain or witnessing of injustice from a trusted institution. No matter how many times these people have to go through difficulties many of them stay hopeful amid the most difficult situations knowing that they know a friend, a community member who has gone through a similar situation and able to survive. Or they know that there is a better day ahead.
Hope enables these refugees to stand up for what they believe in for instance facing the challenges in life, not missing classes because of the level of stress one is going through, working hard to make ends meet or finding interest in community services, and standing up against inhumane acts or working as a community advocate as peacebuilders as well as educators.
Hope gives refugees a choice, a choice that a better tomorrow is within reach, a choice to forgive and forget, a choice to be there for others when they are in need, a choice to become the best version of oneself both personal and professional level and a choice not to give up.
Having a small business gives the owners a sense of engagement, adds value to their day-to-day life. Many parents tell their children to work hard so that they could be an aid to their family and the community. Many broken hearts and families don’t necessarily have to worry about their struggle as their heart is embodied by hope.
Physical activity that strengthens their mental health
Before the refugees came to the refugee camps, they were doctors, drivers, fishermen, salesmen/women, farmers, business people, etc in fact many of them had had better lives where their children could go to school, play football, or any other game without fearing any harm. But after desperate journeys, refugees found themselves in refugee camps, a place they found safe but confined. As a refugee living in a refugee camp doesn’t allow you to do or exercise all the things you might want, most importantly, even some of the most basic rights and freedom due to the laws that govern refugees such as the encampment policies and lack of willingness of host nations to integrate the refugees into their societies. For many years, this has been mentally and emotionally draining.
Allowing the refugees to engage in the business allows them to have satisfying lives and career in the entrepreneurship field, actually, a few of the refugees who got an early start in their entrepreneurial are already doing well in Kakuma for example, Misfin, an Ethiopian business person who has been working in the camp for many years and acts as a philanthropic business person during crises. But it is also worth mentioning that the refugee small business also contributes to the growth of the host communities as they also pay taxes just like any other ordinary citizens annually. They also create employment opportunities for other refugees as well as host communities where the parents who are employed would have stayed at home without any job or any other opportunity. But when they are employed they feel that they are helping their children as they don’t worry about putting food on the table for their children and meeting their needs from clothing to forging a decent life. This means a lot and prevents the children from school dropouts and losing hope during difficulties. It also gives parents dignity and they become mentally strong as the challenges of being unemployed are overwhelming.
In summary, entrepreneurship creates a sense of regaining a dignified life and hope despite the challenges existing in places like Kakuma Refugee Camp where the majority of the refugees don’t have any other support or additional assistance outside what UNHCR and WFP allocate. I recommend establishing additional boarding schools that enable children particularly girls to get quality educations in Kakuma.