On the Ground: World Refugee Day, from Kakuma Refugee Camp, Kenya

Jun 20, 2016

In the first of our “On the Ground” series, we mark World Refugee Day with Muzabel Welongo, a refugee himself, as he tells us about his life.

“Despite the turmoil of war and civilian unrest in my country, DR Congo, that almost took away all my hope for the future, I have come out strong to defy all odds and stand in the front line to accompany fellow refugees to regain agency over their own lives. I have spent the most of my life in displacement, including living in Kenya as a refugee for six years now. Coming to Kenya was one of the most difficult journeys I have ever taken. I had no passport, no identification document, and no money. I lost everything in my country. But I still kept my hope alive. And my life went on despite of all challenges. They took my home and got me separated from my loved ones, but I had the choice to craft my own potential. The opportunity to advance my education that I received while living in Kakuma Refugee Camps has changed my worldview helped me regain part of my lost pride. My education also commissioned me to create a community organization; I started organizing fellow refugees to share our hopes and empower our communities to become self-reliant.


Muzabel Wolengo, founder of SAVIC and author of this article
Muzabel Wolengo, founder of SAVIC and author of this article


Millions of refugees in Africa and around the world are subject to the same fate. Many have become hopeless, homeless, and many children and youth have lost chance for education. War, civil unrest and other forms of crisis that have ravaged the African society have disrupted the dreams of many young people, and caused many of them to lose control over their own lives as they have to depend on food and other forms of humanitarian aid. The most basic women’s human rights are endangered, and job opportunities become a rare dream as many refugees struggle with the limited access to other meaningful basic needs.

When I arrived in Kakuma in 2010, my willingness to help others took over very quickly, despite the challenges that I was personally facing. I realized that many youth in the camp were idle; many had negative coping mechanisms, and many involve themselves in transactional sexual behaviors as a source of livelihoods. I noticed how difficult it was to be self-reliant and get access to services for young refugees, especially those with low literacy levels and who cannot speak English. I myself had a hard time to cope with refugee life in Kakuma and decided to learn English and Kiswahili to allow myself to interact with the community. With a group of fellow refugees in Kakuma, we started “Solidarity & Advocacy with Vulnerable Individuals in Crisis (SAVIC)”, a community-based organization that provides literacy, skills and English classes for young refugees in Kakuma. My aim was to empower refugees to be resilient and self-reliant through our programs. With the financial support of the refugee community and donors such as Feed the Minds, our work has expanded to reach more than 5,000 refugees in Kakuma with literacy and English training, vocational training, and livelihoods creation programs. In one way, we are contributing to creating brighter futures for the refugees here in Kakuma.


A literacy class in action in Kakuma Camp.
A literacy class in action in Kakuma Camp.


My dream in the next five years is to work towards promoting the rights of young people to education, reproductive health, and sustainable livelihoods. Using my experience as a lifetime refugee and a social change agent, I wish to push for policy changes and join the world of implementers, policy makers, and innovators to challenge the status quo and promote innovative reforms regarding provision of Family Planning to the youth, and helping refugee youth regain full agency over their lives.”

Below are a selection of photos that give you a taste of life in Kakuma Refugee Camp:

Tailoring class

Child on a Bike

From Good distribution

Girls playing