“Someone shot My three sisters. Their crime? They Just wanted to go to school.”
…was just one of many terrifying life stories and memories shared with me when I spent a week in the Kakuma refugee camp. I was there to meet, learn from and teach young women and girls who all live in Northern Kenya, very far from the beaten tourist track and close to the border of Uganda, South Sudan and Ethiopia.
When you touch down at the small airstrip in Kakuma, you immediately experience how brutal and unforgiving nature is in this part of Africa. It’s really dry, like REALLY REALLY dry; there’s almost no vegetation, malaria is endemic and, as the Security Officer told us at the security briefing, “Don’t let the cobras spit in your face.” The fact is, IF this camp is safer and better than the place you are coming from, then you must have been in a really terrible and dangerous situation.
And that was the case for all of the refugees I met there. Everyone came from areas where murder, rape, mutilation, and abuse were part of their daily lives. Whether their homes had been destroyed by civil war, famine, drought or natural disasters, everyone had been forced to leave and seek refuge just to get protection and, in the best cases, also get an education.
But one of the most important things I learned there was that not a single one of the more than 100 women and young girls I met actually wanted to be perceived as refugees. Instead, they were ‘Young Teachers’, ‘Future Doctors’, ‘Soon to be Entrepreneurs’, ‘Aspiring Business Women’, ‘Actresses’ or ‘Models waiting to be discovered’. I was deeply touched by their confidence, the strength of their community, and that they all believed and fought very hard for a better future and knew that the hard work and their sisterhood would give them a chance to get a brighter future.
The people I met didn’t want charity. They wanted help to acquire the right skills to create and build a future for themselves and their communities.
The #iamtheCODE program is supporting the UN Sustainable Development Goals 4 (education) and 5 (gender equality) which, after protection, are the most important development goals in my mind. The Kakuma camp was established in 1992 and is now the home to almost 200.000 refugees from South Sudan, Ethiopia, Somalia, Burundi, Rwanda and many other countries . The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) runs the camp and is supported by a myriad of non-profits and charities, and the Kenyan government.
The #iamtheCODE program is a blended curriculum that is systematic and focused around building skills and confidence both in coding specifically, but also around the bigger STEAM agenda. The programs are modular and scalable but are being customized to each site in order to make sure that we are creating as much value as possible.
After a week there, I left Kakuma with some answers, a lot of learnings and also new questions. First and foremost, I learned that it is possible to make a difference and that it doesn’t need to take a whole lot. If we are able to support one entrepreneur in creating her own future, that will inspire 1.000 others who will then be less inclined to listen to the fake promises of human traffickers or religious radicals.
Secondly, everything is way more complex than you are able to grasp when you’re safe at home in Europe or the U.S. Nothing is as it seems when you are in a refugee camp, where people are sometimes literally fighting for their lives. Whenever you solve one problem, you might be creating another controversy somewhere else in the system. It is an ecosystem approach that is needed, and it’s not enough to try to just put out fires.
Moving away from aid and charity dependency by building skills and increasing the independence of these women is the only way forward. It is very clear that that is the desired direction from UNHCR, and I am super impressed by the dedication and professionalism that I experienced there. I am also deeply humbled about what a ‘normal day in the office’ looks like for the people on the ground there. My ‘rough’ days do not even compare in the slightest.
I was in Kakuma because I am a Board Member of #Iamthecode’s and taking part in our program there. But I wouldn’t be there and be in the fortunate position to be able to support this cause if it wasn’t for the people that guided me on my journey and helped me acquire the skills I have today. I wasn’t born into wealth, but I was lucky to have been born in a safe socialist liberal country where people might be taxed a lot, but where education and healthcare are free. It gave me a great education that now can be used to make a small contribution to help others.
Want to support what we are doing in Kakuma? Then support #iamtheCODE.
You can also support UNHCR or UNICEF. Every contribution will make a huge difference for the lives for people who wants to build a future for themselves and their community.