Oct 3, 2013

A Radio Live Show Reenergizes the Dadaab Refugee Community;

A new innovative radio live show known as Gargaar has been established for refugees in Dadaab camps. Gargaar a Somali word for support is a daily broadcast from a studio based in Hagadera camp and wired live for two hours at Star FM between 8am and midday. 

The program has now been on air for about five weeks strictly addressing refugee issues. Star FM on which it plays is a huge network which covers an expansive region from Kakuma in North West Kenya, Nairobi and even up to Mogadishu in Somalia.

A baseline survey by Internews Europe which was conducted earlier this year confirms that radio is Dadaab’s most relied upon source of information. Up to 74% of refugees entirely rely on radio for information and this is one of the reasons why the program has been put in place.

Lifeline Energy, an organization that has in the recent past donated solar powered radio sets directly reaching up to 15, 000 refugees in Dadaab reveals that even though radio ownership in camps is limited, refugees love to congregate wherever there is a radio to obtain information about childcare, nutrition, health, Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and even news from Somalia.

25 years old Mohamed Bashir Sheikh who is a regular Gargaar listener and a resident of Hagadera camp underscores to me the significance of Gargaar program. “Ever since I came to these camps in 1991, there has never been a refugee focused radio program. Gargaar is the first.”  

 The station’s program manager says that Gargaar only runs for two hours a day but this time is usually enough to air interactive discussions mainly about security, livelihoods and education. It is even made more interactive with a text message platform they call ‘Souktel’.

Picture:-A refugee listening to radio in Dadaab refugee camps-Picture by Fatma Sanbur-Internews Europe

In Dagahaley camp, Bundid Saney likes to listen to the program daily with his friends. He likes discussions about youth projects and he occasionally gets involved by sending text messages to Souktel. He says the program has been long overdue but now that they have it, it is as if God has finally sent to them a solution to the gap that has long existed in camps.

The program was instrumental during the recently concluded refugee leaders’ elections for which it provided live coverage. The elections which were largely well organised and peaceful relied on a massive mass information campaign which Gargaar helped to execute.

Reporters at Gargaar studios narrate to me how election candidates daily trickled into their studio to articulate campaign issues. Election officials from UNHCR and the Government’s Department of Refugee Affairs also utilized the live program to make sure the refugee community was well informed about the importance of the exercise while at the same time informing them the modalities of the whole process.

Even when polling in one of the camps appeared to get out of hand, security officials and indeed UNHCR’s Head of Operations in Dadaab were quick to allay fears and control the situation through the live program.

Five days after the conclusion of elections, I’m lucky to meet in studio the newly elected camp chairlady and chairman for Kambioos camp. As they prepare for their interview, they shortly engage me on what they plan to do for their people.

The chairlady says that she particularly wants to address the youth who were only recently settled in Kambioos camp from Somalia. She wants to urge them through Gargaar to make education their priority.

The chairman on his part tells me that in his many years of community leadership, he has never spoken to his constituents on radio. “We usually listen to overall issues in the two FM stations based here in Dadaab but now there is this unique Gargaar live program in this station that is not only interesting to listen to but also a good platform for us to openly discuss our own issues.”

The mere fact that the program is listened to far and beyond Dadaab camps seems to be another inspiring factor to the refugee community. At least according to Kambioos camp chairlady; they are now excited that their issues are being heard by the rest of the world outside refugee camps.

Besides inspiring the community, Gargaar also seems to largely exist for what it literally means- “support”. The program has so far offered job opportunities to more than a dozen trainee reporters from the refugee community.

Aug 6, 2013

Inspiring Ramadan Stories from Refugees in Dadaab Camps

                                  Ramadan Story 1

My name is Fardosa Mahamed Ibrahim. I am a 28 years old Oromo girl from Ethiopia. I am a Muslim and I am celebrating Ramadan this month. I am from Yavelow, Ethiopia, not far from the Kenya border. 

I now live here in Dadaab in Ifo camp with my young brother. I live here with my brother because my parents were killed in a tribal conflict in 2008. We had to run to Kenya for protection.  There was usually conflict between the Oromo and Borana tribes.

One day when my brother and I were in school, cattle raiders raided our home. They shot my mother in the forehead and killed her. My father was shot in the side chest and was paralyzed for 8 months after which he died.  I couldn’t take the pain. I decided to bring my brother to Kenya for safety.

I am now a student here at the Youth Educational Program center and I learn catering. So far it is going great. I’m always exposed to cooking as a student. That’s what we do. It’s a challenge sometimes but I haven’t betrayed my faith.
It’s amazing being here in this school. Before I joined I didn’t know how to write or even speak properly. I’ve learned clear communication, but also cooking. My family and friends appreciate that. They say it’s good I joined the school.

When not fasting, we usually taste food as we learn to prepare it but I can’t do that with Ramadan. I get tempted all the time but instead of tasting my food at school, I often keep some to share with my brother when we break fast in the evening.  
It’s my personal faith to fast. There are so many months in a year to eat. These thirty days are sacrificial days and I only have to wait until the right time to break the fast.  

Some of the food that we cook here is special. Not the stuff that we usually have in our homes.  We learn to prepare Pizza, Njera, Mandazi and Samosas.  I’ve resisted the temptation to taste the food so many times; it strengthens my faith.

I’ll be here until I finish my studies. My next plan is to learn hairdressing and once my English is better, I will learn computers as well.

    Ramadan Story 2
My name is Kahie Abdi Ali and I am 27 years old. I first came to Kenya in 1991 fleeing conflict in Kismayo Somalia just after my parents were killed. I am now married to one wife whom we have been together for four months. 

Ramadan is usually a very special month to me. This one is particularly important because I feel like my faith has been re-energized. I feel like my Muslim brothers and sisters and even those that are not Muslims are closer to me than ever.  

I am an interpreter at the UNHCR field office. I am lucky to be one of the refugees with a job and I am glad to share what I have with many of my friends and neighbors who don’t have much. I usually break my fast by sharing meals with those who don’t have because I feel that caring for others is the Godly thing to do.

I feel closer to God every often I pray. This Ramadan has offered more opportunities for me to meditate even more. We usually have extra prayers during this month but personally, I even do more. The last ten days of Ramadan are going to be even more important to me because of Lailatulul Qadr (the night of blessings or night of power). 

This night is better than a thousand months (83 years, 4 months according to the holly Quran). It occurs in one of the last ten days of Ramadan and it’s of great importance and enormous blessings for Muslims. I will never want to miss my blessings. 

I have been interpreting for the last 8 years and I know a lot of people in the camps as a result of my job. I therefore find this month different from other months because people are peaceful and are closer to God because of prayers. I love it that way.

                                 Ramadan Story 3

My name is Anab Abdisalam Athil. I am a mother of six children. This is my first Ramadan in this refugee camp because I only came here towards the end of last year. It appears different. When my six children were home they were healthy, now they take turns being sick. 

Their father was supporting and helping us in Kismayo but here, I have to do it all alone.

Since their father is not around. I take care of their daily needs including stationeries, foods and clothing.  I fully depend on my ration card to adapt. I have no job or other support. I sell some of the ration food to be able to buy other types of food for my children. 

I don’t know my husbands whereabouts. We separated in Somalia 14 months ago. Everyone ran for safety. We fled from the outskirts of Kismayo. The only thing I have to break the fast with is Tea and some Corn Soy Blend porridge (CSB-Nutritional diet usually given to refugee families). 

My children are young and haven’t attained the age for fasting. But they always ask me about Eid.    “Mother, there is a big day ahead of us… what will we do for Eid? Mother, do we have anything special for the day?” They are off course young and they don’t understand finances. They just want to have what their age mates have.

All I tell them though is that I have no money to buy them clothes. My plan for Eid is to stay the whole day in our house with them so that they can avoid the disappointment of seeing others with what they can’t have.

Every time I pray. I beg to God that he uplifts my finances so that I can support my children. I always imagine a day of happiness. I belief a day will come when I will be stable like other parents. I will then offer my children all they may need.  

Ramadan Story 4 
My name is Ibado Abdullah Keinan. I am 20 years old and I am originally from Kismayo Somalia. My parents are deceased. 

I am learning English, Life skills, Mathematics and Salon or beauty class- decorations and hairdressing for women here in Dagahaley’s Youth Educational Program center.  I started these youth classes in February 2013.

I stay with one of my sisters. I usually finish this program at 2pm and then go somewhere else for private English lessons after which I return home at 4.30pm. I go for private English lessons to help me progress at the youth education center.

At home, I sometimes assist my sister in preparing Mandazi, Sambossa and Coffee. My main challenge is that I first stayed with my older sister who didn’t send me to school. She used to make me stay home to take care of her children. 

Other children would go to school while I was at home. I used to see them coming and going but I just had to stay home and watch my sister’s kids. 

I stay with my other sister now and she doesn’t force me to do any work. She allows me to help when I can and she supports my schooling. That is why I chose to join this school even though I am older.  I can’t stay Ignorant because I belief that an ignorant person is worse off than a witch. 

I need to become like others who are educated and have skills. Whenever I pray, I ask Allah to help me with my studies. I ask Allah to bless my knowledge. I say oh Allah bless my Knowledge and give me this Knowledge if it s good for me. If it isn’t good for me, please keep it away from me.  

 Ramadan Story 5 
My name is Batulo Hassan Rage. I am 50 years old. This is my 21st Ramadan in Dadaab. I fled Kismayo Somalia in 1992.

At home I used to drink milk. Ramadan was a big event. There used to be preparations for Eid which always got underway with the commencement of Ramadan. We would sell animals and prepare food for the big day. That is a pipe dream here in the camps.  

The earlier years were harder to adjust to. As time went by, I made myself able to adapt. It was hard though, I never thought I’d be a refugee in another country.  

I came with 16 families. 15 of them have been resettled in other countries. I feel like I have been unlucky. This keeps lingering many questions in my head, questions I’m not able to answer. 

I have not given up though. I am still hoping that things will be better some day. I belief that one day, me and my children will have a Ramadan celebration like I used to have it back in Kismayo. 

                                 Ramadan Story 6 

My name is Osman Omar Aden. I am a 23 years old Somali Refugee living in Dagahaley Camp. I came to this camp in 1991 when I was young and that was the only time I traveled long distance. I have never had a chance to step out of this camp since then. 

In this Ramadan, I am studying and things are calm here. During the last Ramadan, there was a fire in Dagahaley market and all the goods were burnt. Refugees who relied on the market for livelihood lost everything. The small workshops and factories were burnt as well. That was quite a tragedy that totally spoilt the Ramadan moment. 

The economy went down and no one could depend on the other anymore. Everything became expensive.  250g of tomatoes were for example sold at Ksh 50 (Half a dollar). A pair of trousers which usually costs Ksh 700 (about 8 USD) was sold at Ksh 2, 000 (about 23 USD).

I was a teacher in a madrasa before returning to the Youth Education Program center for studies. I chose this because I am still young. I needed to learn more. In the Quran, the prophet says that we need study even if we have to go far distances to do so. I am ready to take up my studies to the fullest even if I have to go all the way to China to achieve that.   

If you are educated, ideally you are like a person living with light in the house. If you are not educated, you live in a house of darkness. I usually encourage people to study whether it is Islamic studies or secular studies. Thanks to Allah I have this opportunity here at the Youth Educational Program center and I appreciate the support from my teachers.

Pictures taken by Brendan Bannon- Photojournalist

Jul 23, 2013

A Refugee’s Pursuit for Livelihood

Amani Kishonge Ruhimbana an entrepreneur, a French teacher and a community development worker has been a refugee in Kenya for six years.  Amani who is now in his mid twenties flee his country DRC Congo in 2007 as a result of internal conflicts and insecurity. Despite his status as a refugee, he tells me he has never regarded himself as a helpless person. Instead, he is ever focused in achieving his dream of becoming a leader in his country some day.

In an interview with me, he disputes the general perception held by many people who have never been in a refugee camp. “There is often a bad image created out there about refugee camps.  The usual general view by many outsiders is perhaps that a refugee camp is a densely populated place with a multitude of idle people not capable of making a living.”

“Many fail to see the obvious fact that a refugee is just like any other person, only that their normal lives have been disrupted. A refugee could be anything from a doctor, a teacher to an entrepreneur, a journalist or even a farmer.” Amani who now resides in Dadaab refugee camp tells me.
A refugee trader in Dadaab refugee camps-Picture by Mohamed Bashir-Internews Europe.
Dadaab refugee complex in based in North Eastern Kenya in Garissa County just about 80 KM from the Somalia boarder. It currently hosts a massive population of 430, 000 refugees and asylum seekers most of whom come from

Thousands of men and women living in Dadaab complex, the worlds largest are resilient people who have walked long journeys in life. Through many income generating activities that freely happen in Dadaab camps, it is not hard to tell that many refugees are determined to make a living for their families despite the tough situation of having to live in isolation. 

Amani himself is very determined. Through his many walks in life, he tells me, his main focus is to surprise the world that a refugee can make it too.  

“Back in my country, I had just finished my Diploma in Commerce and my life was looking bright before hell broke loose. I had to flee. Members of my family were also forced to flee in different directions without a trace of one another. I ended up in Kenya myself. And so when I arrived in Kenya in 2007, I was settled in Kakuma refugee camp by UNHCR.” He explains.

He continues to explain to me how life can be very harsh if you are forced to flee and all over sudden happen to find yourself in a new country within a confined environment away from your loved ones. “I had never been in a refugee camp before. When I found myself in one, I thought my dreams would crash within no time. I almost gave up my hope.”

“I always held myself in high regard. In fact, my nick name is Prince which means the son of a king. The name was inspired by my great grandfather who was once a king in the Bavira Kingdom in my hometown. I always believed that I have the capability to do anything I ever wanted but I almost doubted myself when I was in Kakuma then,” he narrates.

Amani, a name which significantly means Peace in Kenya’s native language Kiswahili does not understand why his country has to be a subject of perennial internal conflicts. He tells me how he desires to be part of a permanent solution to his country. “I have my personal problems but in my head, I never stop thinking of problems facing my country.” He tells me.

He recounts how he later in 2007 reunited with some of his family members who had also been settled in Kakuma camp. That is when he decided to forget his miseries and focus on his future. He somehow repackaged himself and started getting involved in income generating activities within Kakuma camp.

“I got my first job as a French teacher in one of the primary schools in Kakuma. I also raised some money to establish a beauty parlour and a tailoring shop. Whenever I was not in class teaching French, I was either designing clothes in my shop or attending to my customers at my barber shop. I had acquired these skills while back in my country,” he adds.
Amani teaching French to Aid workers in Dadaab’sMain Office

Things were not rosy. He therefore had to think of other ideas. He then decided to open a salon shop with items that were donated to him by the Lutheran World Federation (LWF), an NGO that operates in Kakuma. “It’s not everyday that you get an opportunity like that,” he says.

“My hair designing skills had impressed LWF officers so much that they decided to support me to advance my business.  To be honest, my salon was the best thing that ever happened to me in a camp. It did very well especially because I had good partners but it only did well for a short while. My competitors from the host community were not happy.” He pauses.

He then narrates to me how he began having random problems with unscrupulous business competitors from the neighbouring Kakuma town. Some attacked him several times despite reporting them to local authorities. “One evening, a gang attacked me in my shop and took off with my working items. I was badly injured and I had to seek UNHCR’s protection intervention. That is how I ended up being relocated from Kakuma to Dadaab refugee complex.”

Amani had some savings with him when he arrived in Dadaab’s Ifo camp. He immediately established a mobile phone charging shop outside the main street of Ifo. He also purchased a new tailoring machine with which he established a cloth designing shop.

He tells me how he found Dadaab very structurally different from Kakuma. “Ifo camp was very populated. There were hundreds of refugees from Somalia being settled there every day. The conditions in Ifo were harsher than they were in Kakuma and there were many existing businesses all over town. It was hard to penetrate but I had to venture into something anyway.” He says.

“Despite all the challenges, I settled down quickly and I made a lot of fiends and customers from different nationalities. People brought to me their mobile phones to charge for them. Some even brought laptops, ipads and iphones. My shop became a busy hub but I had to be more watchful because of all the expensive electronics under my care.”

Amani continues to narrate to me how he was already putting together big plans to expand his business just before an unfortunate incident happened outside his shop in late 2011. An Improvised Explosive Device (IED) exploded right outside his shop. This was during the time when life in the camps was becoming unbearable due to insecurity.http://www.somaliareport.com/index.php/post/2363/Kenyan_Response_to_Attacks_in_Refugee_Camps
The explosion caused a stampede which found even him fleeing from his business leaving it unattended. “To my shock, I lost everything in my shop during the stampede which had created room for some people to rob me. All the expensive electronics had been stolen. My designed clothes had also been stolen. The arrival of the police made things even worse because they randomly arrested all people found within the scene of the incident including me.”He says.
He tells me how life turned upside down for him after that incident. Some of his customers who had lost their items in his shop began demanding him to pay for the stolen items. Some even threatened him.

He had no capacity to pay anything and so, he chose to seek protection from UNHCR again. UNHCR counselled him and offered him new shelter in a new settlement. He later applied for a compound management assistant job at UNHCR which he secured after a few weeks.  
Amani in his Compound Management office in Dadaab’s Main office

Even though he now lives and works in the UNHCR compound awaiting his durable solution, he says that he misses his relatives and friends back in the camps. “There are times when I feel like visiting my friends and relatives back in the camps but I really get scared because of what I went through there.”

Amani says that even though he has a job and a secure place to live, he is not entirely happy because he is not able to support his family with the little amount he makes. He teaches French to a few agency staff members working within the larger UN compound every evening after work. “What I would really love to do is to establish my own business first and then get a chance to further my studies even as I do these other jobs. I have people who depend on me you know!” He exclaims.