Friday, September 16, 2016 in Kakuma
Last night by chance, I met and had a Tusker with the aid worker who was responsible for one of IsraAID's best female students, Rose, dropping out of the November 2015 groundwater geophysics course. Elvis, a Kenyan, runs Youth Development Services here in Kakuma, for the Lutheran World Federation, aka LWF. Sure, that includes a music studio, a soccer league, encouraging artists and would be musicians, and even youth workshops with Clowns Without Borders. It also included putting together an Olympic team in a place where youth have no shoes and facilities of any sort, and where opportunities simply do not exist. It was a 4 year methodical process of teasing latent talent out of the Camp.
Rose was one of the 5 Kakuma athletes, all middle distance runners, and all from South Sudan, who comprised the 10 person Refugee Olympic Team. From the millions of other refugees in camps in Africa and elsewhere, people here are filled with pride and hope that half came from Kakuma, and ALL the track athletes came from Kakuma. The NGO FilmAid set up massive screens at 2 locations in the Camp, with large canopies so some events could be watched live even in the bright sun of late afternoon. Tens of thousands watched.
The 5 athletes flew back to Kakuma to a hero's welcome. A huge crowd greeted them at the air strip with singing and traditional dancing....living proof that there is a way out of here. And while the 5 runners did return, they are now being sponsored to train in Nairobi to become professional track athletes.
Rose was very good, but there have been other outstanding female South Sudanese students in the IsraAID WASH - WAter, Sanitation, and Hygiene - classes. Besides being tall, thin, and dramatic looking, they all seem possessed of smarts, a strong work ethic, and a no nonsense approach to everything. Today I ate a great lunch - njira, rice, cabbage, and goat-with Anna. One of the superstars in the class. Her father was killed in the second Sudan civil war, and her mother carried her out of Sudan to Kakuma in 1994 when she was age 2. Besides great math and science skills, she speaks English, Swahili, Acholi, Arabic, and likely at least one other language of Sudan. Her mother died of disease here in the Camp, and she has since lived with her now 65 year old grandmother. The grandmother collects and carries water for the household so Anna can work on a hygiene promotion team in the morning, and attend the groundwater class in the afternoon. She has had countless interviews for resettlement, with no success. I don't get it as not only does she have all the attributes to succeed, but one of the great failures of resettlement of the Lost Boys of Sudan was not resettling Lost Girls to supplement the social package. Meanwhile, according to today's BBC news, about 300 South Sudanese a week are coming into Kenya fleeing the latest conflict, with far more South Sudanese fleeing into Uganda, Ethiopia, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
I have always wondered why I rarely see runners in the evening when I usually head out into the desert. Elvis said the 6:00 PM curfew keeps them in Camp in the evening. Also, when you are living on one meal a day, and that meal is in the evening, you do not want to miss it. Since there is no electricity in the Camp, and people are hungry and tired, the evening meal is usually not delayed. Most of the runners head out at dawn. Too bad for them, as it was an inspiring scene this evening seeing the full moon rising over Laga Tarach, the Turkana manyata homes, and the Acacia trees of the Turkana Desert. For a moment I thought I was in Africa!
Myself and 2 Israeli colleagues with IsraAID finished the evening with a walk into Kakuma town, nyama choma - roasted goat meat - and beers, all outside of course under a clear sky and a harvest moon. Tomorrow it is a visit to the Chief of Kalobeyei to discuss the results of our January SEG Geoscientists Without Borders water exploration surveys, and to the new Kalobeyei Refugee Camp.
Blogging by Paul Bauman