Overcoming challenges and learning how to serve refugee communities in Kenya

Programme Officer, Amina Adnan, shares her reflections and learnings from working with refugee-led organisation, SIR, in Kakuma Refugee Camp over the last four years.

I have always been a believer in “giving through charity” and “service to the community”, this is probably because my religion emphasises both. I did not foresee myself working in the humanitarian sector, but I know my happy place is when I can share skills and knowledge with others. I have worked as part of the Xavier Project team for over four years now. Over the years I have spent most of my days working closely with refugee-led community organisations in Nairobi and Kakuma Refugee Camp, Kenya.

When I first set foot in Kakuma Refugee Camp, in particular Kakuma One (the oldest part of the camp), I was shocked. In a situation that should be temporary, it looked permanent to me. Many refugees have been here for years. People have built homes, businesses, and are finding purpose and activities to keep them going. I was inspired to meet young people who were determined not to be defined by their refugee status or their circumstances in the camp. Instead, they were making the most of the opportunities available to them. I was even more inspired when I met our CBO partners situated in locations across the camp.

One of the first groups I met was Solidarity Initiative for Refugees (SIR), which was founded by Bahana Hydrogene and Jessie Inga. Bahana and Jessie have made it their business to improve the opportunities available to young people in their surrounding community, Kakuma One, through digital learning, enterprise and ICT programmes. They have been able to meet the needs of the young people in their area of the camp by building a hub and providing relevant courses. They have provided a safe space that motivates young people to learn and grow skills for their futures.

It made me think about my own community in the village – I asked myself what I should be doing and how I could make it happen. They inspire me and others to think about giving back and their work in Kakuma One demonstrates just how impactful this can be. 

Last year when I wasn’t able to travel to Kakuma because of COVID restrictions and lockdowns, I saw this most apparently, as leaders and representative organisations like SIR were at the forefront of leading the response. Despite their hub being closed, they delivered basic food and sanitary provisions to the most vulnerable in their communities, and keep young people learning by sharing podcasts and educational materials. They are uniquely capable to respond to the needs of their communities. As Kenya went back into lockdowns at the end of March, they continue to lead and are constantly adapting and responding. Xavier Project builds partnerships that nurtures these organisations through skills strengthening and information sharing. I have seen firsthand in Kakuma how prosperous this can be. Just like me, refugees in Kakuma want to build skills and live purposeful lives – organisations like SIR give them opportunities to do this.

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