Kenya: Resourcefulness in times of need

How refugees are managing on reduced assistance

Martin Karimi
Oct 17, 2017 · 5 min read

Kenya has been home to refugees for many years but continued conflict in neighbouring countries has resulted in more people seeking refuge in the country. In northern Kenya, Kakuma refugee camps are receiving at least 2,000 new refugees every month, mostly from South Sudan. With a population of close to 184,000 in Kakuma camps and 38,000 in the nearby Kalobeyei settlement, the empty spaces are fast filling up.

As the camps fill up the resources available to help them are being stretched to the limit. A shortage of funds has forced the UN World Food Programme (WFP) to reduce food rations to the refugees by 30 percent in order to stretch the few resources a little further. Even with the reduced ration, WFP can only provide food up to the end of November.

The only source of food

With the majority relying fully on WFP’s food for survival, news of ration cuts has left many aggrieved.

Athiu Ajak is from South Sudan and lives in the camp with seven children. She is frail and elderly and cannot work to put food on the table.

“We have nothing to eat. Last month’s ration is already over and this month’s is delayed,” she lamented. “If you cut the ration, you will surely be sending us to the grave.”

Athiu has resorted to borrowing food from a trader against her monthly cash transfer allowance.

“Athiu is my loyal customer. Whenever she is in need, I help her out — I give her food on credit knowing that she will pay me back,” said Margaret Nyokabi.

Margaret has a number of similar clients — all women who have a standard food budget for their cash transfers.

Limited choices

For refugees, options are limited. The law does not allow refugees to work or run businesses outside of the camps. Movement is also restricted, with a pass required in order to leave the camps’ jurisdiction.

Opportunities for work in the camps are limited and the pay is strictly a stipend — not a reflection of the service offered. Many are forced to give up their professions and pick up new skills. Some people have been successful in earning additional money to add to the food and cash transfers provided by WFP.

The determined carpenter

John Santino fled the fighting in South Sudan in 2016 and was settled in Kalobeyei. Back home, John was an accomplished carpenter.

“When I arrived, I did not have any tools or capital. I fled South Sudan with nothing but a few belongings,” said John through an interpreter. “But I did not leave my talent behind.”

John discovered that wood was scarce in Kakuma. But he soon found an alternative.

“I was using wood as well as metal sheets back home. I found other artists using metal tins — so I decided to try it,” said John. “So far I have made over 300 stools each selling at about 200 Kenyan shillings (US$2).”

John has now been using tins to make furniture for just over three months and hopes to build up his working capital slowly and set up a furniture shop. In the meantime, he will set up a phone repair shop, having already built a work station.

“I only brought a mallet with me from South Sudan. I have to borrow tools from my neighbours or improvise, but this is the work I love doing. The earnings are helping me buy vegetables and add to the cash I am given by WFP to buy food.”

Inside his house, John has made beds and a sofa set using mud.

The experienced farmer

Twenty-four-year-old Dorcas Kaunda Raphael fled instability in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. A mother of four whose life back in Congo entailed farming a large tract of land is now only able to till a 5 by 6 metres plot behind her temporary house.

“This place is dry. It doesn’t rain. In Congo, rain was never a problem,” said Dorcas. “But I know the importance of growing my own food. With my small plot, I don’t go for a day without green vegetables.”

While other backyard plots have withered in the dry heat, Dorcas’ plot is lush with spinach, amaranth and sweet potato vines.

“Water is a challenge, but I have to water my garden at least once a day,” said Dorcas. “I cannot afford to buy vegetables on a daily basis with the cash from [WFP],” said Dorcas.

Dorcas received farm tools, seeds and manure through the integration project funded by the European Union Emergency Trust Fund for Africa. WFP and the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) working with the Turkana County Government trained the farmers on digging furrows and sunken basins to conserve rainwater.

Many in need

The number of crises around the world is far outpacing the level of funding available for humanitarian operations. Just in this region, Uganda, Ethiopia, Somalia and South Sudan all have huge needs. The international community has been very supportive to Kenya’s refugee operations in the past and we hope will continue to do so.

WFP has provided food and cash to refugees this year thanks to the generosity of donations from Canada, China, the European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations (ECHO), Germany, Hungary, Japan, Sweden, the United Kingdom and the United States.

Click here to learn more about WFP’s work in Kenya.

Related article:

World Food Programme Insight

Insight by The World Food Programme

Medium is an open platform where 170 million readers come to find insightful and dynamic thinking. Here, expert and undiscovered voices alike dive into the heart of any topic and bring new ideas to the surface. Learn more

Follow the writers, publications, and topics that matter to you, and you’ll see them on your homepage and in your inbox. Explore

If you have a story to tell, knowledge to share, or a perspective to offer — welcome home. It’s easy and free to post your thinking on any topic. Write on Medium

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store