July 24-26, 2017
post by Jennifer
Stuck in the unrelenting traffic of Nairobi, for a moment I found myself imagining and missing the wide open dusty roads of Kakuma where the hot wind blew, sunset followed, and kids chased after our lone van. No, Kakuma is not the world’s most desirable place to live. From our two-week stay, we had experienced it all — the dry heat, swarming mosquitos, uneven streets, basic living conditions. Life isn’t easy there.
But still the open and steadfast spirit of Kakuma and its wide array of people linger and tingle in our memory. It’s hard not to fall in love with Kakuma. Nothing can evoke as many emotions as the view of a sunrise atop of a water tower, a reggae dance party in the middle of a desert, an intense all-girls soccer match aimed to promote gender and ethnic equality, or a classroom of 100 or so children singing about urbanization.
Our last day in Kakuma started at 5am with a virtual reality shoot at the Kalobeyei primary school. We set up our VR cameras, hid behind a wall, and watched crowds of children trickling through the school gate from all directions. I personally did not grasp the immensity of the number of students (4500) at this one elementary school until I stepped into the kitchen. In it were literally waist-high heavy-duty pots with maize and beans filled to the brim. The principal, Nick Lokitela Lomorukai, was delighted to see us, kindly offering us a tour and speaking about the importance of interethnic integration in education. Classes started promptly at 8am. Amidst the sounds of teaching and chattering, we heard singing. Following the sound, we stumbled upon a classroom of more than a hundred young children huddling on the floor and shouting lyrics associated with modernization. It was incredible to see kids from various tribes and backgrounds under one roof learning about progressive concepts and community unity.
I’m glad we captured this moment in VR. The footage from this school is one of the many that we shot to introduce the world to the new Kalobeyei Settlement. Peter always had the idea of making a VR film on this trip to give outsiders an opportunity to fully immerse in one of the world’s largest refugee camp. On the last several days of our stay, we went out to the field every day at dawn and executed this idea. Looking back, I realized that shooting a good 360° piece consisted of a lot of unseen effort. As a viewer, making a VR film seems easy — if you find a good spot surrounded by meaningful movements and actions, then you simply set up the camera and let it roll. From this experience, however, I realized that there is so much preparation and creativity involved in getting the best shot, and telling a good story and keeping a viewer engaged is even more of a challenge.
After our departure from Kalobeyei, we headed back to Kakuma and bid ‘see you later’ to our FilmAid crew. This trip is one of those ‘how on earth do I deserve this’ experiences. I feel incredibly lucky to have had the opportunity getting to know the refugee and host community graduates of FilmAid. From our collaboration, I saw their determination and optimism and understood the camps from their perspectives. Despite the differences in our backgrounds and knowledge, we seamlessly worked together and successfully created a series of informational short films and VR for Kalobeyei within the limit of ten days.
The rest of our trip home from July 24th to 27th was exhilarating, relaxing, and at last bittersweet. In Nairobi, we petted baby elephants at the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, gave smooches to giraffes in the Giraffe Centre, watched Dunkirk in a local cinema, did some bargaining at the Maasai market, and created a world-class synchronized swim team in the Stanley pool. The huge discrepancy between Nairobi and Kakuma made me feel uncomfortable and undeserving. Anyone of us could have been born as a refugee and felt powerless over how the world sees us. However, we are lucky enough not to be in that situation. Instead, there are many things we can do to alleviate the pain of the less fortunate, such as helping them assimilate in their local community and offering them opportunities to achieve something we take for granted but is a dream to them.
The Turkana County is doing exactly what we all wish we could do — integrating refugees into their own community and learning to rely on and build off of each other. The reason why the Turkana government established the Kalobeyei Settlement in 2015 was so that in this new area separate from Kakuma, refugees can settle permanently, develop sustainable living methods, and become part of the local community. Not only does the integrated education system show the gradual elimination of ethnic barriers, but the occasional sightings of brick houses instead of the plastic houses with UNHCR printed all over also indicate that the Turkana people are willingly taking in the refugees as their own people. The Kalobeyei Settlement is heading into a bright future. I have faith that eventually all refugees there would establish a crucial and visible presence within the host communities in which they’d live symbiotically. From conducting interviews as part of the Protection and Livelihood team, I was already witnessing the movements toward that goal. Different organizations such as the Danish Refugee Council have started programs that teach refugees lifelong skills such as cooking and baking, managing home economics, and using a computer so that they can more easily start their own business and support their livelihood.
I feel so lucky to have been in Kalobeyei when it is undergoing all this progress and expansion. Having heard from the future generation and seen them bond with each other without fear and discrimination, I can’t wait to see the developed Kalobeyei and Kakuma ten years from now. For me, this trip did not simply just fulfill my desire to see and share with the world the reality of a refugee camp; instead it has prompted me to relate Kakuma to the ongoing global refugee crisis and think of solutions to help refugees achieve their personal goals.
Thank you for joining in on our journey. We hope that our blog gave you a more concrete insight into the Kakuma Refugee Camp and Kalobeyei Settlement!
Lastly, the Penn-in-Kakuma group has been a crazy special one. As our trip comes to a close, I can’t even begin to describe how much these people have amazed and changed me for the better. Below are some memorable classic quotes/moves from everyone:
Peter: Out of all the groups I’ve had, you’re the group that complains the least.
Michael: But I complain about everything.
Peter: Well, I don’t listen to your complaining.
Michael: Tofu is the Pinocchio of food. All it wants is to be real food.
Maddy: Imma touch that elephant’s butt.
Nicholas: I find cleaning to be invigorating.
I’m ready for my presentation.
Sonari: I’m joking.
Melissa: *always asking the right question*
Melisande: *hair epically flowing with the wind*
Jean: Sometimes it’s not about directing. It’s about giving them a second chance.
Jesse: Our plan is just another list of things that doesn’t happen.
Jen: *whips out camera* this is going in the vlog.