Emergency aid in Nowhere

By Mathias Maurer, July 2012

Kakuma – the word sounds like a hellishly hot spice. Kakuma means Nowhere in Kiswahili and is a refugee camp of more than 100,000 people in north-eastern Kenya. That is where the Friends of Waldorf Education are in deployment.

Children in Kakuma

Hundreds of people arrive daily – single children, many former child soldiers, old women, whole clans with baggage trains, on foot, in trucks, completely exhausted, ill or injured, traumatised, having travelled for months, years in flight. They are escaping from war, famine, mass rape and bloody clan feuds which wipe out whole villages. 

They come from Ethiopia, Burundi, Rwanda, Somalia, the Congo and South Sudan. Some of them are also fleeing because global speculation after the last drought catastrophe drove the price of millet so high that the local people could no longer pay for it.

Drawing paper like sandpaper

The wind starts in the morning and rises until it becomes a sandstorm. In the afternoon it dies down as quickly as it arose. And the paper on which the children sitting in a circle are painting colourful watercolours feels like sandpaper afterwards. The children in the reception centre are participating in a programme of the Friends of Waldorf Education. In April, the Friends are in Kakuma for the second time this year with their team and together with the teachers from the Nairobi Waldorf school are helping children and adults to come to terms with their traumatic experiences through experiential education.

Jamila from the Congo is eight years old and came to the camp with her pregnant aunt. Her parents were killed before her eyes, she and her aunt raped. Since then she is mute. After individual art therapy measures, through which she learns to express her experiences non-verbally, she finds her way back to speech. But then she disappears without a trace, a search is undertaken and she is found again – and has remained mute ever since. No child must be lost from sight.

The leader of the team, Bernd Ruf, reports that their help can only be a drop in the ocean. The UNHCR would need 26 million dollars per year just to keep the camp going, but at the beginning of the year there are only 12 million available. The conditions are unimaginable. The HIV rate is very high, malaria is rife, there is one hospital and six emergency stations, a few doctors but no gynaecologist or surgeon. Many dream of a “resettlement paper” that would allow them to emigrate to the USA and which costs 5,000 dollars on the black market. Most of them want to leave because there is no future for them in the camp – although they know that the camp is a refuge for them. Everything, every water bottle, has to be flown in, corruption and the black market flourish. Although the refugees are allowed to work, they can only earn pocket money as the UNHCR provides accommodation, subsistence and medicine. Many hang about. Alcohol, drugs, women, weapons, petrol, food – everything is traded – including children as work slaves. Attacks on rival tribes are organised from the camp, the children and men are killed, the herds of cattle driven off, houses plundered and set on fire. The feuds continue in the camp – a young Sudanese was recently killed here. Fortunately the clan elders also have authority in the camp because they are respected by all.

At 18.00 the curfew starts, after that the members of the international aid organisations (NGOs) can only move about with protection. The UNHCR area with the accommodation for the NGOs lies outside the camp and is hermetically sealed; then there is the actual refugee camp spread across several blocks for 18 kilometres like a drawing board, the “Protection Area” which houses refugees who are under threat and have to be protected, and the “Reception Centre” in which the new arrivals are registered.

Dancing through the camp

A gong sounds. There is singing. A colourful group of children moves through the camp. They clap, stamp and leap, some watching shyly and curiously, most of them exuberant and happy. They are led and looked after by a 14-member team of the Friends which is deployed here with locally trained specialists.

They play games of skill with balls, tyres and large cloths, sew, crochet with their fingers, paint and make things. The team includes eurythmy therapists, creative speech specialists, teachers, doctors and curative education specialists from Kenya and abroad; they undertake supervision and crisis work, train the staff in the methods of Waldorf and experiential education and work with them to come to terms with their own traumatic experiences; they carry out individual sessions ranging from trauma therapy to rhythmical massage, give medical help and stay in contact with UNHCR offices and their Kenyan colleagues. The international emergency education team of the Friends, which has been deployed in many disaster areas around the world in recent years, meanwhile forms an international team of people from Brazil, Argentina, Columbia and Germany.

Kristina Manz from the Friends of Waldorf Education is currently on her third deployment in Kakuma with a German-Kenyan team. It is the rainy season and everything is flooded. They are looking after the trauma education work of the children’s centre which was established in January and visit the kindergarten with 90 children which was also set up by them. In August a “Child Friendly Space” will follow in the “Protection Area”. There are 18 schools in the camp which are run by the Lutheran World Church and are completely overcrowded. Up to 250 children sit tightly squeezed together with a teacher in a class. About one third of all the children in the camp can attend a school. There are no “public” kindergartens, only a handful of private facilities charging fees which hardly anyone can afford. There is no provision for children under five. The new kindergarten has been specially set up for the three to five age group.

The Friends make the impossible possible; they contribute to making the inhumanity created by humans a little bit less inhuman. They try to give the children back a bit of their childhood. Kakuma relieves the people of their fear of being dragged out of their houses at night, killed or raped for the price of having ended up in Nowhere. Kakuma is a spice which does not burn on the tongue but in the soul of humanity.

Link: www.freunde-waldorf.de/notfallpaedagogik.html

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