When I visited Kalobeyei on the edge of Kakuma refugee camp last month hopes were high that it would eventually grow into a new city in its own right with a self-reliant community bringing jobs and trade to this impoverished corner of Turkana West county in Kenya.
Kalobeyei is already home to 36,000 people who’ve fled war in South Sudan and other troubled places. It’s a five-year project supported by UNHCR, the World Bank and the European Union. It also has support from the Kenyan government’s Departments of Health and Education.
UNHCR is insistent we call Kalobeyei “a settlement” rather than “a refugee camp”. The difference it says it that each resident is given a plot of land and a small house in newly created neighbourhoods of around fourteen homes which it hopes will develop into sustainable communities.
The residents are given support in agriculture and skills training, along with schools for their children. Already some 4,500 people have been trained in artisan skills like plumbing and welding, and have secured Internships with local industries
In the words of the Head of the UNHCR in Kenya Raouf Mazou:
“We’re trying to move to socio-economic inclusion for both the refugees and the hosts. We need to turn Kalobeyei into a city. We should always be thinking how we can help the local Kenyan government to include a specific group into mainstream society.
“We need to help people normalise their lives after the disruption of becoming refugees, and help them become part of the mainstream society”.
Kalobeyei is an extension of Kakuma’s four camps that sprawl across some thirteen kilometres of arid semi-desert of northern Kenya. Temperatures rise to 37 degrees centigrade and harsh strong winds blow dust and sand through the buildings and tents.
I was here on my first field visit with my charity Humanity & Inclusion and I was able to visit its many projects here from physiotherapy and rehabilitation clinics to wheelchair workshops and skills training centres to give people the skills they need after the trauma of fleeing their homes.
I visited a project where 650 farmers have been given their own plots of land and are trained in agribusiness. Half are funded by UN Agencies and half by the SPARK programme which is supported by the UK’s Department for International Development (DFiD).
SPARK is the acronym for The Support for the Protection and Assistance of Refugees in Kenya. It is a £3.5 million programme run by DFiD and the Norwegian Refugee Council in partnership with UNHCR, UNICEF and the World Food Programme.
Humanity & Inclusion provides agri-business expertise and provides tools, seeds and irrigation systems to support these emerging farmers.
Each plot of land is farmed by ten people who have their own Marketing Officer whose job it is to scout round the area to find out where they can get the best prices for their vegetables.
SPARK provides vocational training and seeks to make its recipients self-reliant. Its original target was to train more than 87,000 individuals drawn from both the host and refugee communities. Humanity & Inclusion was tasked with bringing around 8,700 people of disability to be trained and given skills to help them get jobs and be included in mainstream society.
Projects include a workshop where deaf women are given training in weaving skills and sign language. They sell their cloth locally but have also set up an online sales site to boost orders. Humanity & Inclusion organises the micro-finance for them to develop their business plans.
There’s also a Kakuma Youth Training Centre where more than 1,000 students are currently learning a range of skills from mechanics, welding and plumbing to hairdressing, beauty treatments and solar technology.
When I visited the centre I also saw Computer training classes which included PC training for visually impaired women using braille handbooks.
Most of the students have never seen a computer before. They are given a three- month training course and then sit a nationally-accredited exam to get a certificate authorised by The Computer Society of Kenya.
I also saw 86 students learning motorcycle maintenance and heard how some 75 young people who’ve been trained in carpentry and masonry had now set up their own businesses, supported by Humanity& Inclusion who provided them with tools and start-up capital.
At this time when the Charity sector has come under the spotlight for all the wrong reasons it’s refreshing to see a project which has made a real difference to thousands of impoverished lives, and given them hope and skills as they step out on this long road from refugees to citizens.
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