'I am Kakuma' airs hopes and dreams of refugees

People tend to have prejudiced views of refugees. This initiative is helping the world see they, too, have ambitions

In Summary

• The initiative was founded by refugee and a former journalist to change people's perceptions of refugees. 

• It also connects people interested in the refugee stories to the writers.

Joelle Hangi wit the Refugee high commissioner, Filippo Grandi
KAKUMA: Joelle Hangi wit the Refugee high commissioner, Filippo Grandi

Originally from Congo, Joelle Hangi, 26, created a platform for refugees to share their stories after struggling to adapt to a new country herself. She launched the initiative in conjunction with  Geert Van Asbeck, a media expert from Holland. 

In 2019, they took 100 refugees and gave them the opportunity to write their stories and speak about their lives in the camp from their own perspectives. The platform also links refugees with people interested in their stories who would like to help them achieve their dreams. 

Hangi, who has been living in Kakuma for seven years, wants to change the world's perception of refugees.


"When people look at refugees, they see desperation and hopelessness. They don't see people who have a vision, but looking at their positive stories from the website, you see they have goals and hope for tomorrow," she said.

For instance, Koja Yohanna, a 48-year-old mother of two boys and a girl, has lived in Kakuma for 13 years. "I started primary school when I was 40 years old and my children went to school. They have all graduated now and are working for NGOs," she writes.

"I am in secondary school currently. I want to become a politician back in Sudan so I can show my people a good way of leadership."

Yohanna has not seen or communicated with her husband, who was a soldier since they left Sudan.


"We pray he is as safe as we left him. Kakuma is much better. What I like most is the provision of free basic needs like food and education. I am glad my children have all studied and completed their secondary school successfully," she writes. 

"But what I dislike is life in general: little food, never enough. And as refugees, we are being restricted from moving out of Kakuma Camp."

Abuol Garang, 13, wants to become a doctor, a computer programmer and a professional poet. She was born in Kakuma and has five brothers and four sisters. 


"But currently, I don't have enough good food, good healthcare and good learning materials," she said. 


"I want the world to hear my voice through poetry. I led my school to a national competition here in Kenya. I recited poems. I did well and our school was the best school in poetry in the entire nation."

The teen has learned about sustainable development goals and hopes to contribute to some of them. They are climate change, gender equality, zero hunger and quality education. 

"Despite all the challenges I am facing in Kakuma, I will never give up. I will work tirelessly in school to achieve my dreams and use education to change my family life and that of African girls," she writes. 

During an interview with the Star, Hangi said when people look at refugees, they perceive them as not normal. 

"I feel this is something we should keep doing to change the perception people have of us because we are isolated from societies and the world," she said. 

Geert, who is a former journalist, told the Star he hopes the platform will help people who have never been to the camp see that refugees have their own ambitions. 

"As a journalist, I noticed that a lot of stories written about refugees are from journalists. Refugees rarely have an opportunity to tell the stories on their own, and that's why we started the 'I am Kakuma' website," he said. 

According to UNHCR Kenya, most refugees and asylum seekers in Kenya originate from Somalia (54.5 per cent), followed by South Sudan (24.4 per cent), Congo (8.8 per cent) and Ethiopia (5.9 per cent).

Data from the UNHCR shows persons of concern from other nationalities, including Sudan, Rwanda, Eritrea, Burundi, Uganda and others, make up 6.4 per cent of the total population. 

Almost half the refugees in Kenya (44 per cent) reside in Dadaab, 40 per cent in Kakuma and 16 per cent in urban areas (mainly Nairobi), alongside 18,500 stateless persons.

Edited by T Jalio

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