Kakuma Refugee Camp 2018-03-12T00:50:59+00:00

Kakuma Refugee Camp

The Kakuma refugee camp was established in 1991 and is located near the border between Kenya and South Sudan adjacent to Lake Turkana. It is administered by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and falls under the jurisdiction of the Kenyan government. Kakuma, meaning “nowhere” in Swahili, occupies a dry, desolate land with few trees.

In July 2017 after some difficulty, a team from Seeds of South Sudan received permission from Refugee Assistance Services to visit the camp. They met with the camp director, David Mgatia. He informed SoSS that 171,000 people live within Kakuma 1-5 regions. Nearly three fourths of the refugees – 71 percent– are from South Sudan. More than 800 South Sudanese, primarily women and children, were arriving each week.  New arrivals are sent to Kalobeyei Settlement Camp.

Kakuma has distinct communities and local tribes look after orphans from their home area. The SoSS visit was to Kakuma 1, established in 1992, and from where over 3,000 original lost boys including Arok Garang left for their new lives in the U.S in 2001. Friday July 21st was hot and muggy, as Kakuma had received its first rain in two years.

The SoSS team of three met with young students, all desperate for the same things that the original Lost Boys longed for: peace, freedom, and an education. They interviewed 46 students and stayed for their meal of the day. The World Food Program provides one meal, a bowl of beans, each day. Because of the continuing influx of new refugees, WFP has had to cut rations even further for that single meal.

Those with some education try to teach the younger ones, but class sizes can exceed 400. It is no place to build a future. That is why Seeds of South Sudan has been working since 2008 to raise funds to pay for the education of South Sudanese orphans in boarding schools in Kenya.

Aguil Lual Deng – An SoSS Success Story

Middle school students at Colorado Academy (CA) have raised funds to support the education of Aguil Lual Deng since 2008, a commitment that continues to this day. This support of a South Sudanese orphan was inspired by a talk by Arok Garang about his experiences as a Lost Boy and his efforts to educate South Sudanese orphans in Kenya.  Encouraged by science teacher Sue Counterman, the students have been raising $1,200 a year to support her tuition, books, housing, food, medical care, and more.  

Aguil was born in South Sudan in 2001, but lost her parents to the genocide.

Members of the South Sudanese community brought her to the Kakuma Refugee Camp in northwest Kenya, now teeming with nearly 200,000 refugees.

In late 2008, the child’s fortunes changed as she was selected to be part of the Seeds of South Sudan program. Aguil traveled from the Kakuma Refugee Camp to Nakuru, Kenya, where she joined a small group of orphans in SoSS. She was one of the first females to participate.

 Aguil began her primary education at Roots Academy, considered the top boarding school in the area.  “On our trip in July 2017,” Sue writes,  “we met with current students and talked with the Headmaster, who showed us Aguil’s recognition and awards, which included election as head girl of the school of almost 1000 in her final year.  Aguil’s superior ranking in the country at the termination of her primary school education at Roots had made the local paper and was posted in the headmaster’s office.  Of more than 900,000 students in Kenya taking the primary school final exam, Aguil was one of 5,000 with a top score!  Clearly, she is an exceptional young woman.“

The third week in July 2017, Sue, Arok and Roger Vadeen traveled to one of the top girls school in Kenya, Njonjo Girls High School. Students were preparing for exams that would take place the final week of July.  The headmaster only allowed them 15 minutes with Aguil, despite their having traveled more than an hour east of Nakuru to visit with her. 

“In our short visit, Aguil expressed her thanks to everyone who has supported her at CA, assured us that she will continue to do her very best to succeed in high school, and encouraged CA students to do their very best in their own academic careers,” Sue continued.  Aguil’s goal is to become a medical doctor in order to help citizens of her country.  She also expressed a desire to one day visit and thank personally all those who have supported her at CA.

“Aguil’s grit and perseverance serve as a tremendous example of the power of education to transform a life, and in the process to contribute to a sustainable future,” Sue writes.  “Aguil is tenacious about her goal to pursue medicine as her best contribution to the future of South Sudan.  As I left Njonjo Girls High School I vowed to return for her high school graduation in 2020 before launching Aquil on the next phase of her education, medical school.”

Life in Kakuma

Life in the semi-arid desert environment of Kakuma is challenging. The area has always been full of problems: dust storms, high temperatures, poisonous spiders, snakes, and scorpions, outbreaks of malaria, cholera, and other hardships. The average daytime temperature is 40 degrees Celsius, or 104 degrees Fahrenheit.

The camp is a “small city” of thatched roof huts, tents, and mud abodes. Living inside the camp is equally prison and exile. Once admitted, refugees do not have freedom to move about the country but are required to obtain Movement Passes from the UNHCR and Kenyan Government. “Essentially, the refugees are confined to the Kakuma camp area; they are not allowed to move freely outside of it, and they may not seek education or employment outside of it” [4]. Inside this small city at the edge of the desert, children age into adulthood and hope fades to resignation. To be quite frank, many refugees are living the lives of hostages.

Due to their legal situation and local environmental conditions, refugees are largely unable to support themselves with income-generating activities. The semi-arid climate of Kakuma is ill-suited to agriculture, while restrictions on employment deter refugee job-seeking. Those who work with NGOs receive a small incentive payment for their work, but incentive staff represent only a fraction of the refugee population. As Arafat Jamal concludes from his evaluation of Kakuma camp, “Anyone confined to a place like Kakuma is rendered automatically dependent on some form of hand-out”. [5]

Works Cited

[1] [2]Fair Observer— http://www.fairobserver.com/article/life-kakuma-refugee-camp

[3] UNHCR Fact Sheet UNHCR Branch Office Nairobi. http://reliefweb.int/sites/reliefweb.int/files/resources/KakumaCampPopulation_20160530.pdf

Jamal, Arafat (2000). Minimum standards and essential needs in a protracted refugee situation: A review of the UNHCR programme in Kakuma, Kenya. UNHCR Evaluation and Policy Unit/2000/05.


[4] Jamal 2000, p. 7-8

[5] Jamal 2000, p. 23


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