Refugees Magazine Issue 104 (UNHCR's World) - Kenya: Welcome to Camp Sadako

Refugees Magazine, 1 June 1996

Sylvie Daillot, of UNHCR's Youth Awareness Programmes, describes the first day at "Camp Sadako" for a group of young volunteers.

By Sylvie Daillot
UNHCR Youth Awareness Programmes Dadaab, Kenya

The blazing sun has been beating down for several hours now on the semi-desert of eastern Kenya. In a cloud of dust, a UNHCR plane lands on the runway of Dadaab's tiny airport. Through the windows of the plane, Daniel and Ilaria have had time to catch a glimpse of the refugees' huts made of adobe, branches and plastic sheeting, as far as the eye can see.

And already, everything is different from what they had imagined before leaving, or after the brief training session they were given at UNHCR Nairobi. The first stereotypes have already vanished.

Daniel, Ilaria and today's other arrivals are not the usual aid workers flying in from Nairobi. These are young people who have come from all over the world to work as volunteers for one month in the refugee camps of Kenya.

They are welcomed to Dadaab by Linnie and Jacinta, the community service staffers who are going to accompany the team during the coming four weeks. They are introduced to the UNHCR and the NGO staffs and receive an explanation of each person's responsibilities. Next, they get a tour of the UNHCR compound, with its offices, public rooms and lodgings. They are assigned duties and make a first visit to the camps. In just a few hours, the members of the new team are ready to go to work.

Daniel and Ilaria's stay will be part of the "Camp Sadako" programme, named for High Commissioner for Refugees Sadako Ogata. The initiative was launched by UNHCR in 1993, and is aimed at acquainting young people with the realities of life and work in the refugee camps. Including the 1996 group, 180 young people from 25 countries have worked with UNHCR and its refugee beneficiaries in "Camp Sadako" programmes in seven asylum countries.

Daniel and Ilaria were selected, as were Annette, Martin, Francisco, Roslyn and Herta, by UNHCR offices in their respective countries Australia, Germany, Canada, Spain and Italy. They pledged to cover their own travel expenses, to offer their services for one month to help the refugees and those who work with them in the camps, and to raise public awareness in their own communities when they get home.

Their work in the camp will depend upon their skills. Some will carry out detailed studies of certain aspects of the aid programme, such as food distribution, help for unaccompanied children, the problems of site planning. Others will set up special activities for the refugees. All of them will bring new perspectives to the way in which these operations are administered in the camps.

Last year at Dadaab, two young girls organized volleyball teams for the Somali refugees a real challenge in such a traditional society. Elsewhere, at Kakuma where the first "Camp Sadako" was located two young Australians set up a writers' workshop, where everyone could go to read, share, or discuss novels and poems. When they returned to Australia, with the assistance of the UNHCR and Austcare, they published a collection of these writings, "Tilting Cages."

The seven youths arriving this morning have yet to make their mark, but there is no doubt that by the time they leave, they will have made a contribution. And when they get home, they will continue to champion the refugee cause in their own country. Their predecessors, for example, have organized photo exhibits, have been covered extensively in their local media, and have given talks in schools and universities. Some have organized the collection of funds to finance camp programmes. This year, 83 young people from 25 countries are participating in "Camp Sadako" projects in Guinea, Jordan, Kenya, Mauritania and Mexico.

Source: Refugees Magazine Issue 104 (1996)