A REPORT ON KALOBEYEI VISIT IN TURKANA -Director's News March
Ruben Centre and (United Nations Food Agriculture Organization) UNFAO have an MOU to work together to deliver Urban farming to some youth groups in Nairobi slums as well as the Kalobeyei refugee settlement in Northern Kenya.It was for this purpose that I travelled on an ECHO flight sponsored by European Union to Kakuma, a remote place 100 kilometers south of the Kenya South Sudan border. To have this short term (six months) project work well I needed to get a feel for the climate, the physical environment and of course the people we would be working with.
After a flight of ninety minutes we stepped out into a blazing hot dry and dusty Kakuma. UN FAO were there to meet myself, and my friend Anne Fillmore from the USA. and without wasting any time we headed off with Francis the Kakuma FAO coordinator, to see the settlement situated in a Mars-like landscape about twenty kilometers from Kakuma. The name “settlement” rather than refugee camp, gives a hint to the vision of the UN for these refugees from mostly South Sudan, but also Somalia. These people are not going anywhere soon, and so efforts are being made to assimilate them into the ‘host ‘ community, which are largely Turkana people who live a pastoralist lifestyle, eking out a meager existence from the very hostile environment.
There are about 40,000 refugees in three villages and this huge influx of people is clearly placing great demands on an environment and host community who traditionally live in very small family groups scattered far and wide. This settlement is expected to grow to 60,000 in a year, eventually forming a continuous refugee population with the Kakuma settlement 3 km away. The refugees are there because of conflict over resources in their own countries and the last thing needed is a replica of the very factors that have driven the people from their homeland. Ruben Centre has been engaged by UN FAO to bring their expertise in urban farming to this new urban construct. UN FAO predict that climate change, scarcity of water and population growth will see over 60% of the world’s population living in urban environments by 2035 and these urban worlds need to be feeding themselves. So enter Ruben Centre to the rescue.
After three hours immersed in this desperate world I listed some observations.
People are already trying some forms of agriculture.
The noticeable absence of water. Every tap was dry and beside them huge lines of empty Gerri cans. Water is highly controlled and released in meager amounts once a day.
We visited the school and met with the Head teacher who told us that there are only 5,700 kids this year well down from the 11,000 of last year. I think they must have started a new school in one of the other villages. The school was truly a desperate place with the class sizes around 200 kids sitting on stones in hot, airless corrugated iron buildings. We didn’t see one class with a teacher and the Head teacher said that the Kenyan government is funding five teachers while World Lutheran Federation offers KSHS 5,000 shillings monthly to some teachers from within the refugee community to help out.
I am sure the daily meal is the primary reason these kids come each day. Three taps and drains, for lunch plate cleaning, at the border of the schoolyard were full of water, and even created a muddy area. The potential to create a school garden demonstration site and utilize this reclaimable water, and provide educational collaboration, is exciting.
My spirits continued to lift when I found the first signs of water for the day in a different section of the camp. One resident had a relatively successful garden, had taken initiative with his own seed purchases, and was enthused at the prospect of working with the FAO program further.
As we moved around with our hosts we were mostly welcomed, but on one occasion one resident got very uptight and argumentative about our presence. Our host was clearly frustrated with his man’s attitude and whispered that he is likely to be first in line when UN FAO begin to give our seeds for planting.
Challenges the situation is throwing up include-
The peaceful integration into the host community by the refugees.
The sharing of the limited resources.
Establishing small attempts at self-reliance for each household.
It is impossible to ignore the fact that this harsh environment in no way can sustain these large numbers and so for how long will the world continue to offer this limited help.
The sheer distance of the project from Ruben Centre.