Kitala first contact AGC RSI in November 2017. We have emailed back and forth several times over these past two years. In my efforts to better understand what life is like for refugees, I asked Kitala if he would take some photos and write to explain for us who are so far removed from his experience what life is like for them in a refugee camp. Kitala lives in Kakuma, a refugee camp in Kenya that hosts over 186,000 refugees. These are his words and his photos.
First and foremost, Kakuma refugee camp has a semi-arid climate with temperature reaching 40 degrees Celsius. The area is always full of dust storms, poisonous spiders, snakes, and scorpions. Outbreaks of malaria, pneumonia, and cholera do not spare refugees, and 3 months ago, one of my neighbors died with cholera.
Water in Kakuma refugee camp is a very big problem. What we do, earlier in the morning at 6am we have to wake up and go to the nearest water tap between 5 to 10 minutes walking. Reaching there, we have to line up and the person who arrives first must start. If you fail to wake up early in the morning, it means that you will not get water for 2 days, because we fetch water only once every 3 days. The barrels in this photo belong to different families, including mine because this was at 6:00am. Many refugees will bring 2 or 3 jerry cans to the water tap a little bit later. The reason why many refugees prefer to bring their barrels a little later when the water is about to come is because the host community members usually come in about 5:00am, and anything that they come across they automatically steal it. If they find a refugee, they will beat you and steal everything you have such as money, phones, and they might even kill you.
The concrete circle in the photo is a place where waste water goes straightly when refugees are fetching water. Some refugees use that waste water to make muddy mold bricks in case they want to repair their houses, or to water the small gardens some refugees have planted for vegetables in their compound. They cannot use the clean water that comes directly from the water tap because the people who need water and many, and the time is very short.
Because Kakuma refugee camp is a semi desert region, many times we do face the challenge of water shortage; then, I have to walk more than 2 kilometers looking for water. Because it is a dangerous journey, I cannot accept that my wife goes because it is long walk and she may be raped by the host community members who sometimes kill even refugees if you meet with some of the ones who are bad. That is why whenever we face the problem of water shortage, I am the one to go to look for it in the bush, far away from where we live.
The kind of food we normally receive from UNHCR is sorghum, yellow peas and oil. As I am family size 4, I receive 8 kilograms of sorghum and 2 kilograms of yellow peas. It is very, very little compared to the size of my family and the worst is that we have to eat this for 30 days no matter what. I am a Congolese together with my wife. Back in our country, the sorghum from what we know is used to make traditional beer only, and in our country Congo, our main food is just maize flour or cassava flour. You can understand the way we are affected a lot by the food UNHCR provides. If we try to sell the sorghum, 1 kilogram will only bring 10 Kenyan shillings, and 1 kilogram of yellow peas 30 Kenyan shillings. This means that if we decide to sell out the 8 kilograms of sorghum, we will get 80 Kenyan shillings which is less than 1 US dollar.
I have a lot of experiences working with humanitarian organizations. I have worked with:
- the UNHCR as an interpreter;
- the International Organization for Migration (IOM) as an interpreter,
- the Norwegian Refugee Council as a hygiene promoter,
- the Lutheran World Federation in the Department of World Service in Peace Building and Conflict Resolution Unit as a case worker,
- and other many humanitarian organizations.
But here in Kakuma refugee camp as a refugee, we do a lot of work, but we are called incentive workers despite certificates and experiences. We are not entitled to salaries. What we are given is just an incentive that is between 3000 and 5000 Kenyan shillings ($29 - $48 USD) per month.
I have faced a lot of insecurity in this camp by known and unknown people to me. When I arrived in Kakuma refugee camp, I was living in Kakuma 3, zone 3, block 2, but one night I was attacked, together with my wife. We were about to be killed that night, but through our prayers and the help and guidance of the Holy Spirit, in that night when the perpetrators were trying to destroy our fence so that they can enter inside the house, I managed to call one of the staff of RCK (Refugee Consortium of Kenya - a national organization in charge of refugee advocacy and legal issues in Kenya), the person I called quickly responded by calling the police who came directly to my house with 4 vehicles and the perpetrators ran away.
I relocated away from that community and decided to live in a Somali community. Unfortunately, I was attacked again by some people known to us. I decided to go to report to the police, but sadly, they told me to give them money first so that they can arrest the perpetrators or if I do not have money, when I am killed I can go to report. That was their response to my cry.
What I did as a human being and as a man, I decided to leave that area with my family and now we live in Kakuma 3, zone 1, block 4 hiding myself with my family. I have faced a lot of insecurity threat in this camp and these are just some few examples of them.
Because of living in Kakuma for many years, this is the condition of the house I am living in with my family. When it rains, it is obvious that one side or wall of the house will be affected by the rain. The house is about to collapse. Again another enemy is the wind, when it comes. The worn out iron sheets are affected by the wind. We just live in this house because there is no other.
If you wonder how Kitala came to be in Kakuma, watch for future articles telling the story of both Kitala and his wife Nanga.