According to a database created on August 2021 by Kakuma Refugee Initiative Network (KRIN), an umbrella that unites the refugee-led initiatives in the camp shows that there are about 70 initiatives led by refugees and host community from Kakuma, not to mention other initiatives that are underway, not a member of (KRIN) or student-led organizations and various self-help groups in Kakuma. What are all these initiatives all about? How did they start? Who is involved? Why should they matter? and other questions related to the history of these initiatives, their contributions before and during the pandemics as well as the challenges and opportunities that exist in the initiatives will lead us to understand the roles of (RLO’s) beyond the pandemic. This article will be guided by those questions.
Background History of the (RLO’s)
Refugee Led Organizations (RLO’s) also known in the community as community-based actions (CBA), Refugee Women-led organization, community-based organization (CBO), local initiatives, grassroots organizations, self-help groups, student-led organizations, and many more are initiatives led by refugees and sometimes may or might not have representatives from the host community. These initiatives are inspired by the motto “Men and Women for Others” by Pedro Arrupe and in Kakuma Refugee Camp, it has become a slogan with inspirations that motivates men and women to work for others selflessly and not for themselves. In our words, men and women find meaning and purpose in the services of others, “Unless a life is lived for others, it is not worthwhile.” said Mother Teresa,
To put it simply, many of these are initiatives are created by refugees (persons of concern to UNHCR and Government of Kenya) are who are from both young and adult, men and women mainly hailing from Jesuit Commons of Higher Educations at Margins (JC: HEM) currently known as Jesuit Worldwide Learning (JWL) Higher Educations at Margins, who have either partially and fully completed their studies in the camp through both blended and online learning or from the host universities such as Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology, Turkana University and various other learning institutions available to the refugees in camp or nationwide not forget InZone Hub Kakuma. It is worth mentioning that these refugees have different backgrounds and beliefs yet are united by the values as well as their commitment towards the betterment and service of their fellow refugees and communities.
Using the knowledge and skills they got from the (JWL) classes both from short and professional courses as well as the diploma programs they have pioneered creating (CBA) that were informal with the sole aim to give back to their communities and stand in solidarity with refugees and communities going through crises by setting up informal spaces for adult learning at the community level, creating awareness in relations to domestic violence as well as and distributing to non-food items (NFI’s) to those affected by floods or internal clashes within the refugee camps and help peacebuilding and other beneficial workshops to raise awareness of the refugees to educate about ways of navigating help and their rights to facilitate their adjustment to the new cultures and integrations into new communities and as time goes by, such initiatives were deemed necessary despite their informal status and often, participants and organizers learn from each other and it only got better as the communities appreciated and welcomed these (CBA) efforts overwhelmingly. As the wise sayings go, necessity is the matter of inventions. Basically, the formation and the growth of the (RLO’s) to become an integral part of humanitarian actors is something that has come out of necessity for change in the community by filling the existing gaps and need for self-reliance.
Before the Pandemic
Many grass-roots organizations acted as education spaces in Kakuma because they are easily accessible, available to everyone and run flexible classes to the refugee communities to acquire alternative opportunities and support through education by developing life skills courses, for instance, URISE Initiative for Africa (URISE) refugee-led organization registered (CBO) with its partners provide blended course and ICT classes to the vulnerable youth members in the community, some of the courses they offer include, peacebuilding and ethical leadership. These are two valuable courses among others that (URISE) offers to its students allowing them to contribute to the empowerment of the youth to be ethical leaders and contribute to peacebuilding as ambassadors in their communities.
These grass-roots initiatives also acted as community networks where the community members and learners come together to find information and local solutions for the local problems, an upcoming opportunity such as employment, a new course, or a job opening, in addition to this, students of different background come together to learn in one space allowing to happen rich and diverse contributions and participation from all the participants that go across cultures, languages, and history enabling to form a new identity that they can impress as a residence of Kakuma and relate to each as a fellow Ubuntu “I am because you are.”.
No matter the term you think will fit well such as (CBA), (CBO), (RLO’s), or grass-roots to mention a few, these initiatives acted as social change hubs and agents and catalysts for community development for sustainable communities. This is to say that the drive, urgency, and unreserved commitment towards change are ever-growing and visible, it also remains an area of interest for many refugee-led organizations and their communities to achieve.
A change that increases community protection and livelihoods among the refugee communities for example change could be as small as mobilizing the community to create a door to door awareness in the neighbor to inform the communities about an outbreak of a disease such as malaria or cholera into a language that both young and adult could understand and relate to or even mobilizing your neighborhood to do an hour or day of cleaning the environment to prevent malaria spreading grounds or creating content in regard to the above and share large audiences a good example is Kakuma READ Podcast, an initiative implemented by Kakuma READ Project that has a series of the recorded podcast about awareness of COVID–19 available in different languages.
During the Pandemic
The (RLO’s) have proved to be the first responders to the pandemic. As early as 2020, I remember, schools were indefinitely closed with little information. To explain the situation to the parents and children and find answers to the innocent questions of the children on the reopening of schools and helping them imagine life outside schools was a concern. Many children and youth see schools are their only dream for a better future. The good news is that the few grass-roots available in the camp started acting in innovative ways to create awareness on COVID – 19 and the importance of keeping everyone safe using the guideline of COVID – 19, such as wearing face masks, sneezing or using sanitizers, etc. The (RLO’s) continued to explain this until schools were reopened slowly and continued to create content both audio, visual, and posters.
With few resources in place, they started helping the vulnerable members such as the elder, people living with disabilities, etc. in the community by sharing with them both food and nonfood items. For the first time, thousands of local made and reusable face-masks were distributed by various initiatives and youth in the camp, and no matter the absence of the other actors these initiatives remained on the ground to create awareness of the novel virus both physically and visual way with the help of available information on United Nations Higher Commissioner for Refugees, (UNHCR) and Ministry of Health (MoH) as well as World Health Organization (WHO) websites.
The (RLO’s) acted as a bridge between the persons of concern and humanitarian actors, the inability to communicate a common language and lack of outside school programs that encourage adult education and life skills courses have made unschooled parents feel guilty and shame of not knowing what is happening in and around their environment particularly during the pandemic. So, the (RLO’s) continue to play the role of educating the communities with the help of some partners and donors. For example, apart from UNHCR and Government, GIZ has supported the content creations and provided essential information on the precautions and prevention of the spread of the virus through posters, etc. Some (RLO’s) with the help of their partners were able to promote online learning despite the fact that there were no stable internet connections or available devices for learning, again some of the courses were taking place via online platforms, for coordination and collaborations between these initiatives and partners WhatsApp or Zoom have come in handy remotely.
It was the (RLOs) that the communities depended on a lot in terms of information and random assistance during the lockdown and cessation of movement in the absence of other humanitarian actors, to say the least.
It is just beginning for the (RLO’s) contributions to be observed as the COVID -19 has surfaced the existing gaps in education, livelihood, and health sectors for self-reliance and building sustainable communities, the pursued change, and sustainable projects for community-based protection, know-how and infrastructure are a dream for many (RLO’s) are all contributing to achieving the transformation and co-creation of communities that are the more peaceful and humane world.
Challenges and Opportunities
The challenges associated with startups, founding an initiative, and building from scratch all the way to team building and documentation to a point where the initiative can stand its feet doesn’t happen overnight but it takes courage, belief, and commitment. Just like any other successful initiative, every (RLO’s) has experienced a daunting moment particularly this time when continuations of programs, expansions of learning sites, and reaching out to diverse communities within the camp has remained in demand with little or no resources to do so. During COVID – 19, getting motivated and willing volunteers, logistics, and the need for formal status to standardize the execution of programs and activities, as well as necessary capacity building for volunteers, management, funds, and partnerships, have threatened the consistency of implementations of activities.
In the past, many (CBA) and self-help groups felt that it was quite early for them to seek
formal registrations by then, Back in 2013, I still remember remarkable individuals such as Muzabel Welongo who was by then, a fellow refugee, Congolese by nationality, and a senior student at (JC: HEM) now (JWL) at Higher Education at Margins was among the few refugee youths who has founded and was running Solidarity & Advocacy with Vulnerable Individuals in Crises (SAVIC) now Resilience Action International (RAI) that was later registered and become a Non-Governmental Organization (NGO), SAVIC was among the very first grass-root initiatives led by a JWL alumnae to get a formal status of registrations from the local authority.
Since then, a few (CBA) who have sought formal registrations had their status either alleviated to CBO or perhaps managed to secure welfare association registration certificates. Unfortunately, based on the database created by KRIN indicates approximately 90% of (RLO’s) are not fully registered but continued to make commendable contributions in their communities as change agents and fighting the COVID -19.
This article advocates for localizing humanitarian assistance and equal partnerships with the (RLO’s) for strengthening community-based protections and contributions of United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s) at the grass-root level as well as creating alternative ways of implementing and delivery of humanitarian assistance and development projects to the persons of concerns in protected settings. The professionalism level expected from this initiative or lack of enough professionals should in no way give a free pass to be exploited by any partner into signing a unilateral memorandum of understanding (MoU) that serves and protects one side or even a repulsive partnership but encouraging partners to strengthen where weaknesses are within the (RLO’s) and assist them with the tools and the resources they need to build their own structures and mechanisms within the (RLO’s) to strengthen their policies and how they work to keep checks and balances in reporting, accountability and management as well as the execution of their day to day business in bridging and filling the existing gaps as they re-align and center their focus on the following three thematic areas that are education, livelihood, and health.
Despite all, the contribution of these initiatives towards their communities for community development and community-based protection has remained enormously in demand. The (RLO’s) have proven to be the first responders to the pandemics and showed that they have a role to play not only during a pandemic but given their long history to support the communities before the pandemic. There is no doubt that their work could be essential for community-based protection beyond the pandemic for both access and their ability to find local solutions, as Amina Adnan mentioned in her article, “As a humanitarian actor working with refugee-led organizations, I believe the best way to respond to the needs of refugees is by building on what these establishments are doing to help their communities lead fulfilled lives. These organizations are the best creators of solutions because they are part of refugee communities and know what areas to prioritize. They know what resources are available to them and are more adept at understanding the nuances of the challenges” thus, the empowerment, facilitation, documentation, and capacity building for (RLO’s), is crucial for meaningful engagement and participation of (RLO’s) going forward too.