Where learners have taken over role of peace building

Members of students peace-building group in Kakuma Refugee Camp, Turkana County. [Jeckonia Otieno, Standard]
Just like any society, with differences in personality and biases, Kakuma Refugee Camp has its fair share of conflicts.

Sometimes misunderstandings quickly degenerate into full-blown conflicts, which could end up in death. The fights mainly pit different nationalities within the camp.

Some conflicts are a spillover from the countries of origin; when communities in South Sudan are fighting, for example, it is not out of the ordinary to see the refugees fighting within the camp as well.

But students have taken it upon themselves to end this. An initiative seeks to build peace using school children who call the camp home.

Dubbed Empowering Children as Peace Builders, the programme, which started last year, has students in the camp’s five secondary and 21 primary schools build a cohesive society from a young age.

Mapat Mayuen, a South Sudanese student at Vision Secondary School, says the programme wants to ensure children grow up in peace and do not have their lives disrupted by unnecessary conflicts.

“We mobilise the different communities to work together and avoid conflicts which are very common for various reasons,” says Mapat.

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Some of the conflicts stem from early pregnancies due to relations that cut across different nationalities. “It is common to find people fighting because a girl has been impregnated by a person from a different country and this could escalate to involve more people,” Mapat says.

As the refugees marked the World Refugee Day at the Angelina Jolie School on Wednesday, they were alive to the cultural differences that are also a major source of conflicts.

According to statistics by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Kakuma has 83,423 children, which is about 57 per cent of the total population. There are over 150,000 refugees from at least 18 nationalities in the camp.

Rukiya Said, a student at Somali Bantu Secondary School, says the peace group meets twice every week.

A total of 33 lessons are covered in the curriculum developed by World Vision Kenya, a humanitarian organisation.

Each school has 35 students in the peace committee, whose leaders meet every month to discuss the same issues and learn from each other’s experiences. “Every meeting handles a session and then we take the message back to the communities that we live in,” says Rukiya.

When issues cannot be handled at the school level, they are taken to the elders for further discussion and action.

Members of the team say a lot of ground has been covered. Binti Ahmad Shoblo, a student at Somali Bantu, says communities can now sit together, unlike before.

“It was very difficult to find children from different communities sitting together even in schools, but this has changed as the peace team works in schools to bring them together,” says Ahmad.

Anthony Oyugi, a peace-building project officer with World Vision, says the efforts are bearing fruit. “Adults propagate divisions which end up hurting children and so we are targeting the children to reach back to the adults with a message of peace, even as they are trained on other essential life skills,” says Oyugi.

He says the project will run for two years with an expectation that it will reach thousands of students and adults within the camp.

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Kakuma Refugee CampPeaceChildrenUNHCR