On Sunday, 8 September 2019, during the Luquluqu Walk, I met a young spirited South Sudanese young lady by the Name Maya Aluwel.
Dressed in track pants, a bright yellow Luquluqu T-Shirt and Nike sneakers, she looked like any other young person walking the streets of Nairobi, but I was scarcely prepared for what was to follow next. I was there on official business, offering media support for the event through what we call a Capital FM Outside Broadcast.
As is typical of any radio interview, I began by breaking the ice in a manner meant to make the guests I interview relax and feel comfortable around me.
And it is at this moment that the journey towards #Drive4kakuma begun.
It is through her story that I got to discover the plight of those who have been displaced from their homes and forced to seek refuge in a foreign country that has some semblance of peace.
A Capital FM radio interview will go live once or twice an hour and last roughly 2 to 3 minutes on each occasion. We, nevertheless, seemed to talk to endlessly. The interview on air lasted slightly longer than recommended, but it’s what she said off air that really got me thinking. ‘What is the narrative around the Refugees? What do we know about them? Who amongst us speaks on their behalf? Do we even know about their plight? Or is it that for as long as they are not in the news every day and not part of our day-to-day lives, we will gladly let UNHCR do their thing?’
I spent about an hour and a half trying to rummage through her mind, asking about life in the refugee camp, how she got there, her schooling, where her parents and friends were, what people do during their free time and so on and so forth. It is then that I resolved to join those who champion the right narrative around refugees. She mentioned being born at the border of Kenya and South Sudan. A result of her mother fleeing South Sudan after her father and their family members were killed. Her mum was airlifted to the camp hospital in a helicopter because there were no medical facilities at the crossing at the border. ……That was in 1996.
Maya grew up in the camp and the camp is all she knew. She loved to learn and was eager to be fluent in English early in her life so she could talk to the journalists and donors who came to the camp. She was among the lucky few who managed to get scholarships to study out of the camp; and it is this breakthrough which enabled her to where she is today. She is currently a 4th year student at the University of Nairobi studying Journalism and Media studies.
It is interesting how some of us assume that its UNHCR’s role to take care of those in the camps, but we don’t consider the fact that the funds are running dry and budgets are being cut but the number of refugees isn’t reducing. If anything, the conflict in the horn of Africa is making the numbers increase. Many of these refugees led normal lives just like we do now. They had jobs, owned businesses and were able to move around freely. They had dreams and ambitions. What they didn’t choose was to become refugees; a term they’ve learnt to resent. They didn’t go to bed hoping to be helpless, destitute and live on handouts.
What many of us might not know is that most of them are confined to the camps. The cramped classrooms within the camps have kids striving not only to be doctors and soldiers but also the biggest names in entertainment. They aim not to start wars but to provide a lasting solution to conflicts in their home areas. They want to be artists, journalist….anything to change what they are currently, tell the Refugee story, change the lives of fellow refuges, start families of their own and start a life of their own; fend and provide for themselves and where the sweat from their brow will benefit them and others…. Education is their only ticket out of the camp. It’s the only way that they can gain control of their lives and make something of themselves.
While violence may erupt every now and then, most can’t return home and must contend with living in Kenya. It is my firm belief that we need to cut them some slack and stop stigmatizing and imposing our misconceptions on them. The next time you meet a refugee, get to know them, listen to their story and imagine how it would feel to be in their shoes. How would you want people to treat you? Would you want people to respond to your call for help?
Maya’s words kept echoing over and over in my mind after the interview. I kept hearing….; “You people are lucky you have peace. You can move around the way you want; you have access to services; your effort can be equivalent to your achievement…You don’t know how it feels to be hopeless, to be a refugee with nothing to back home to. I can’t leave this country; I don’t have a passport….” A tear rolled down her cheek…I could feel a lump in my throat.. I was fighting back my own tears… there is so much more she said….
It was then that I promised to do something about it; to help improve the education system in Kakuma so that the 150,000 children can get a better education, even if it meant helping them in small manageable batches. And with this campaign, change the narrative around refugees, get us talking about them, and know that the responsibility of taking care of them lies with every one of us.
Join the Conversation online and find out more about how the campaign is progressing and how you could chip in.
The #Drive4kakuma is an initiative the aims to improve the education of the 150,000 children in Kakuma Refugee Camp. We have received tremendous support so far, but still believe that we can do more. The trip is set for the 30th of January, so there’s still time to put together a few items.
We are looking at collecting textbooks, normal and re-usable sanitary towels, exercise books and toys but are open to anything that you might have that will prove useful.
You can drop off your donations at the Capital FM Offices on the 19th Floor of Lonrho House or Naivas CBD, Capital Center, Naivas Prestige, The Curve Lavington and Naivas Westlands. Cash can be sent through MPESA Paybill Number 927 810; Account name Drive4Kakuma.
The writer, Suleiman Munyua, is a presenter and Head of Creative at 98.4 Capital FM.