“I feel caught up in this camp” – South Sudanese youth in Kakuma

One year since the breakout of conflict in South Sudan, many of the refugee youth in Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya are having a difficult time to adjust to the new camp life. Majority of them have been separated from their parents and many others are finding themselves with neither employment nor any prospects of furthering their education. The Danish Refugee Council (DRC) is reaching out to such youths through trainings on livelihoods, life skills and resilience as well as offering counselling for the traumatic experiences that most of them have gone through.
 
 

“There was a lot of commotion at the Konye Konye market where I was working as a motorbike taxi driver. I saw so many people being shot including women and children. I was so terrified,” recalls 20 year old Santino Gatmai from Unity State in South Sudan. He arrived in Kakuma refugee camp on 13th January 2014. Amidst all the chaos, he managed to flee to the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) compound where he sought refuge for two months.

“Some of the community leaders at the UN compound contributed some money and paid for our bus fare from Juba to Kakuma refugee camp. We could not continue staying at the UNMISS compound since the situation was still tense,” explains Santino. He was able to travel with other young boys and girls of his age to Kakuma. “I can’t quite remember how long the journey was, I kept thinking about my parents – whether they were safe and alive,” adds Santino.

For Santino and many other refugee youth, adjusting to the new camp life has been a challenge. Especially for the unaccompanied and separated children who do not know the where-abouts of their parents. Santino has been placed in a household with other unaccompanied youths and has enrolled in one of the primary schools in Kakuma IV refugee camp. But Santino often still feels lonely and afraid.

“I wish I can only know where my parents are, so that I find some form of closure. I feel like I am caught up in a crossroad. I want to finish my school but I also want to go back home and find my parents,” says Santino.

These feelings are echoed by many other refugee youth within the camp, especially those not able to further their studies within the camp.

“I feel very sad that my South Sudan primary certificate cannot be accepted here. I feel hopeless with nothing to do and no prospects of joining secondary school,” reflects 18 year-old Mark Ndeng who also fled from South Sudan when the war broke out. He had completed his primary education in South Sudan and was due to join secondary school. The Kenya education authorities are not currently accepting the South Sudan certificates because of a difference in the education system between the two countries.

DRC has initiated various interventions within Kakuma refugee camp targeting such youths by training them on resilience, life skills and livelihoods as well as offering them counselling. Santino has undergone the resilience training and counselling therapy sessions.

“The counselling sessions by DRC have assisted me to manage the stress of staying in the camp alone and separation with my parents. I now know, I need to move on and focus on finishing my education,” says Santino. He hopes to become a journalist when he grows up so that he can be able to spread the message of peace to his people and the world.

DRC has been in operation in Kakuma since March 2014 as a response to the South Sudan crisis. 41 refugee youths have graduated from the resilience training in 2014, while 100 youth have also completed and graduated from Life Skills training. DRC is targeting to train about 1,075 refugee youth in Kakuma refugee camp on resilience, Life Skills, Group Savings and Loans, Business Skills Management and Financial Literacy. DRC is also providing scholarship opportunities for 45 youths to benefit from Vocational Skills training and 30 others to pursue professional certification and diploma courses in training institutions.