I visited friends from Somalia and DR Congo before sunset tonight. It’s always good to just sit and talk about life -especially in a refugee camp. Cold Cokes appeared out of nowhere and soon we were talking about everything from surviving bomb attacks, the challenges of keeping in touch with family separated by continents, health concerns, the weather (looks like rain) and even photography.
At some point a boy asked if he could take a picture of his friend using my camera. I showed him how it worked and he quickly snapped this photo. It is the best picture my camera took today.
He then wanted a photo together with me. I handed the camera over to a clothing designer (refugee) from DR Congo who snapped the picture below (I’m the white guy). The boy made me promise to bring a print for him when I next visit.
These things might not sound special to many people – but people here don’t take them for granted. Little things matter a lot. Taking the time to sit, listen and share and pray and take photos are all re-humanizing for people in this forgotten refugee camp in remote northwestern Kenya.
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Most coffee drinkers know that the best coffee in the world is a toss up between that from Kenya or Ethiopia. So one of the perks of visiting Kakuma is that I get to visit one of my favorite coffee shops – it’s owned and operated by my friend, Gede and his wife.
We landed in Kakuma today and had a meeting planned in the camp with the refugee church leaders with whom we partner. But when we got to the meeting location, we discovered the meeting had been cancelled. We had some time to kill before our ride returned to pick us up.
Photo: Mrs. G. serving up coffee
Thankfully, we were just a stone’s throw from Gede’s coffee shop. We had a nice visit with him and his wife – and several brothers from the refugee church in which they all have leadership roles. Nothing earthshaking happened. But we were all normalizing life as we sat and talked together over great coffee. And in a place like this, normality is not common.
Photo: looking out the coffee shop at the busy street
We sat together in a refugee compound. A wall of metal sheeting and a couple of small “buildings” made out of metal sheets and thatch surrounded us. We sat on plastic chairs and sipped on Cokes graciously provided by our Somali host.
Bianca was our translator. She is originally from Burundi and identifies herself as a Christian. She’s 28 years old and has an 11 month old baby. Her husband left them because Bianca is diabetic and is often weak and sick. The harsh climate is brutal for diabetics. She was battling malaria, along with exhaustion and despair, during our visit.
She told us that she is afraid of losing her job with one of the humanitarian agencies due to impending UN budget cuts (30%). Decisions made by donor countries and distant offices directly affect her life and that of her baby. She is pretty sure she will be let go because she is often sick and too weak to work. She has no idea as to how they will survive when that happens.
It was difficult to listen to her as there was nothing I could do to help them. At least that is what I was thinking as she spoke.
But when it was time to leave, she left us with the following words:
“Most white people come and chat for five minutes and leave – but you have sat with us for more than an hour. When you came, I felt too weak and sick – but now we have talked and prayed and I feel better. I feel I have hope again.”
It was a good reminder of the value of simply sitting with people and offering presence. Life without hope is among the heaviest of burdens. And hope comes through presence.
I’m grateful to be part of IAFR, an organisation that values not only service – but relationship. It is often what is missing in the lives of those in refugee camps or traversing continents and seas in search of safety and peace. People who care and who will simply take time to sit together, listen to one another and pray together.
We will never be able to solve all of the problems of the people here in Kakuma. But we can be present with them.
It’s important to also mention that I came away from our visit changed as well. I am inspired by the faith and perseverance of Mama and Bianca as they face incredible daily challenges and yet remain welcoming, hospitable and generous with what they have (did I mention Mama offered me a meal as we sat together?).
We arrived in Kakuma yesterday to find it was World’s Aids Day. Our friends and partners at National Council of Churches (NCCK) took us to the part of the camp where NGOs and refugees were observing the day together with music, skits and speeches. AIDS continues to threaten the lives of people here. I can’t imagine being HIV positive in such a harsh environment.
The gathering was also a visual reminder of how the vast majority of refugees are children, youth and women.
I met these new friends at the Aids Day festivities. They asked me to take these photos and make them available to them – so I’m doing so through this blog. Enjoy guys!
The main purpose of our work in Kakuma is to partner with refugee churches n ways that help people survive and recover from forced displacement. The churches with whom we partner are members of a refugee initiated association of churches called United Refugee and Host Churches (URHC). When we last visited in April, there were 83 URHC affiliated churches representing a wide diversity of denominations, nationalities and language groups.
We are already working together with URHC on several projects, most of which were initiated by the churches.
I recently received this photo from one of the URHC affiliated churches in Kalobeyei refugee settlement. About 7 miles from Kakuma, Kalobeyei hosts nearly 40,000 refugees (mostly from South Sudan). Kalobeyei was established in June 2016.
Established in 1992, the official population of Kakuma refugee camp today is nearly 186,000. Taken together, the total refugee population in the Kakuma region is a staggering 226,000 men, women and children.
So we are half way to Nairobi. While sitting here in Amsterdam, I calculated the travel time between Minneapolis – Nairobi. In reality, it is just under 22 hours (barring any delays). But you could also say, that in reality, it is just under 33 hours.
It depends on how you calculate time. If by the sun’s location in the heavens (which is pretty much the point of telling time), then it takes 33 hours. But if measuring how many hours actually elapse, then 22 is correct.
Either way, it will be good to finally reach our destination tonight and then meet with several of our partners in Nairobi tomorrow, before flying up to Kakuma early on Friday morning.
IAFR will soon be heading back to remote northwestern Kenya to visit our friends in Kakuma Refugee Camp and neighboring Kalobeyei Refugee Settlement. We began our partnership with refugee churches there in 2011. We count it a privilege to be partnering with them in diverse ways – including helping them build the Kakuma Interdenominational School of Mission. The school has been operating since the late 1990s. It has never had its own building. Our generous donors have now made it possible to secure a plot and building materials to build a school with 3 classrooms, a meeting hall, an office and a secured courtyard. We can’t wait to see the vision become a reality!
The KISOM building project is among the many items on our trip agenda. I hope you follow our trip as it unfolds via this blog.
Welcome to the IAFR Kenya blog! This is where you can get a front row seat to the work of IAFR in Kakuma refugee camp in remote northwestern Kenya.
Due to some technical issues, we lost the content of the original Kenya blog that shared updates, photos and videos from our work in Kakuma going back to 2011. As much as we regret that loss, we are happy that we can start with this new blog.
Thanks so much for following our work and for supporting us with your prayers and financial donations that make this ministry possible!