I have been back in Kakuma since September 12 teaching, for the 3rd time, a groundwater and water exploration course to refugees and the host community Turkana. I also plan to follow up on the success of 3 wells drilled from our January geophysical water exploration program, reportedly testing for 29, 40, and 45 m3 per hour. That is a lot of water even for this massive camp, but only seeing is believing, so I plan to visit the well field this weekend, hopefully stopping at the Ethiopian refugee cafe of Franco's on the way.
Early morning September 12, 2016, I flew in on the World Food Program plane as usual, and though this is my 4th time here, I was once again immediately overwhelmed by the heat, the dust, and the mass of humanity. Of course all the refugees that were here in January are still here, plus thousands more coming in from the political chaos in Burundi and Ethiopia, the renewed fighting in South Sudan, and the transfer of Somalis from the supposedly soon-to-be-closed, even larger Dadaab Camp in northeast Kenya.
The refugee population in Kakuma is now 194,000. That does not include the 4,000+ that have been moved into the "new" camp of Kalobeyei, an area on the outskirts of Kakuma, where they have no shade, inadequate water supply, and few facilities. The Kalobeyei area is treed, but the Camp area was bulldozed flat, clearing all vegetation. The people are in tents with tin roofs. It is too hot to be inside, with no trees for shade outside. UNHCR is encouraging agriculture, but there is not enough water. 7 of us from Advisian WorleyParsons carried out a water exploration program in January, but none of our targets in the Kalobeyei area, including a few very prospective ones, have yet been drilled. Presently, all water is trucked in. The 3 wells that were drilled in the Kakuma Camp based on our work, reportedly tested for sustainable yields of 29, 49, and 45 m3 per hour. At 20 liters per person per day, it is enough water for about 140,000 persons. UNHCR may pipe water from these wells, or use water from these 3 wells to replace another closer source to be piped to Kalobeyei.
I teach alone from noon to 5. Between the heat and the jet lag and trying to memorize 28 names from South Sudan, Uganda, Burundi, Somalia, and Turkana, day 1 was a struggle. I ended the first day by going for a long run into the desert through a few Turkana communities. Lucky I did. 3 km out I saw a Land Rover driven by a white man. An unusual sight here. It was an Alaskan driller and his wife carrying out a water well drilling program for a Christian evangelical charity out of Medicine Hat, Alberta. I was told there were no rigs operating within 100 km of Kakuma. Just what I needed for a class field trip.
Day 2 in Kakuma, Tuesday, I drove out to the rig in the morning to be sure the class could reach it across the sand and dried out river beds we needed to cross, and then lectured in class in the afternoon. The groundwater students are excellent. 8 women, 20 men. The usual mix of host community Turkana trying to better themselves, political refugees from Burundi, child soldiers or just plain run'of-the-mill rebels from South Sudan. Without exception they are all respectful, intelligent, and easy to talk to.
One Burundian, Richard, was volunteering daily for the Burundian local equivalent of Amnesty International - Association Volontaire Pour La Defense Des Droits Des Prisoniers- interviewing political prisoners (in prison) and advising them of their human rights until prison was up next for him, and he fled. The tallest person in my class, Mawiet, was a rebel fighter in South Sudan and has bullet holes through his legs and arms and stomach to prove it. A Somali, woman, Suad, has been living in camps since she was 5 months old.
There are 2 Acholi refugees from Gulu, where I will be in 8 days, whose past is still quite unclear to me, but whom I assume were trapped or associated with the wrong side of history in regards to the 20 years of violence and chaos brought on by Joseph Kony and the LRA, though they themselves are too young to have been directly involved in either side. It is good fun practicing all 10 words or so from my Acholi vocabulary I picked up last year, though I try not to probe too deeply into the details of what brought people to Kakuma, unless the story comes out naturally in the course of a conversation. Until this class, I did not know that there are also Acholi in South Sudan, as one of the South Sudanese women clearly has an Acholi physique. Also distinctive are the 3 young men from the Nuba Mountains of Sudan where indiscriminate mass killing has occurred, reportedly due to the region's refusal to accept Sharia Law, along with the run-of-the-mill ethnic hatred that has been associated with all the Sudan conflicts.
Yesterday morning, Wednesday, I went out to the AAHI - Action Africa Help International-pilot 3 acre farm. UNHCR now believes that letting people grow their own food might be better than having them completely rely on monthly food distributions. AAHI wants to expand the farm to 20 acres, but they have no water. The farm is in an area which we bypassed in our January program 8 months ago. We will target the area in class on Monday.
Wednesday afternoon we carried out a survey at the Good Shepherd Catholic Church near the classroom. It is a great training site as there is a high yielding NGO drilled well producing undrinkable, caustic water (likely magnesium sulphate). Salt water is an easy test target, and the site is generally fairly quiet, at least until I started flying a drone to photograph the site, and kids started popping out from everywhere.
Today was a great day. We drove the gear out to the water well rig 4 km out from the Camp, while the class walked there in the heat of the day, all 28 of them. The cable tool rig was in action-drilling, bailing, driving casing, etc.- while we were carrying out our surveys trying to look for water below the driller's current depth. The local Turkana village came out in force to spectate. Needless to say, they were astounded by the aerial drone views of their stick wigwam-like manyata homes and the higher altitude views of the dry river beds and villages and us on the ground.
I was the last to return to Camp as the refugees must be back before the 6 PM curfew. I was met by complete pandemonium at the dusty soccer pitches on the edge of Camp. The Grinch's worst nightmare! CWB-Clowns Without Borders!! No kidding. A Colombian, Lucu from Medellin; Gabby from Brazil, Henrik from Denmark/Portland; and Melissa from Vermont. I am fortunate that I met any of the performers as they were surrounded by 1,000s of kids. There are about 120,000 children in Kakuma. Along with shows in the afternoons, the clowns put on workshops in clowning, acrobatics, magic, and other circus skills with a healthy blend of leadership and other social training mixed in.
I caught up with the clowns at the pub in the evening. They all said it was the most profound 3 weeks of their lives, except for Melissa the acrobat, who was immediately up in a handstand on the arms of a rickety, sun damaged plastic lawn chair, wildly clapping her feet in the air.