Friday, May 18, 2012

Lessons Learned from a Refugee Camp

Talking with the young adults in the camp, I was again reminded of how arbitrary much of a culture can be.  It’s hard to see it when you are living it; it’s not until you take a step back and try to explain it to someone with essentially no shared background that you realize how strange your customs can be.  I feel as though I have this experience often as I travel around and it always surprises and humbles me before putting things back into perspective and extending my compassion.  In this particular instance, I was answering questions about how the American education system works.  The youth couldn't understand a system where age carries so more weight than skill level when determining classes, which, if you ask me, isn't an unreasonable argument.  I can see both sides (though I would tend to side more with the refugees to some degree). 

Cultural differences aside, life in Kakuma is difficult.  Over and over I heard about a lack of resources.  Youth talked about not being able to go to school for lack of space, foster parents lamented their ability to get enough clothing and otherwise support their children.  The camp helps to meet these basic needs, but there is never enough to give everything to everyone in the endless stream of refugees pouring in.  And, just as in any society, the people here face a variety of social pressures.  Youth are teased for being different or coming up for resettlement before their friends.  Foster parents are discriminated against socially and sometimes passed over for resettlement because of the difficulties in resettling a family with a foster child. 

Throughout all of these conversations, I felt like the most important word here was hope.  The hope of getting out someday, either returning home or going to a new country, is what carried everyone forward each day.  Without that, I think it would be too difficult.  That said, many had a relatively positive perspective on their current situation.  Those that remembered living through conflict recognized that being here was better than being there.  At least in Kakuma they aren’t hiding in the bush starving, constantly running.  Here they are safe and have steady food.  It’s not home, and nothing is ever as good as home, but at least it’s safe.

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