Transforming Youth Talent into Livelihoods

“Through the project, I have learnt that my music is my medium to a better life. My dream is to become a filmmaker in future but if this dream doesn’t materialize, I know my music will take me far.”

Angelo Gatjiek poses for a photo outside his house in Kakuma 4.
© UNHCR/S.Otieno

At the age of 8 years, Angelo Kochgor Gatjiek was forced to flee his home country, South Sudan, when war broke out between North and the South in 2000.

Angelo, now aged 24 years old, has lived in Kakuma refugee camp located in Turkana County – North West Kenya for the last 16 years.

Upon arrival, Angelo was enrolled in school. He sat for the Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (K.C.P.E) in 2008 and later for the Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (K.C.S.E) in 2013.

Upon completion of secondary education, Angelo had planned to travel back to his home country to continue with his post-secondary education. On reaching the Kenya – South Sudan border, word reached him of a civil unrest that had started in Africa’s newest state, South Sudan. He had to abandon the journey and return to Kakuma refugee camp.

According to Angelo, life in the refugee camp is not as easy especially for the youth who make up a majority of the population. “I have to work extra hard to provide for my younger brother and elder brother’s family, to whom I have become a tower of strength,” he says.

Unable to further his education, Angelo turned to music.  In 2014, he was lucky enough to secure a job with one of the humanitarian agencies where he saved most of his earnings which he used to record his first song in 2015.

“I had to travel to Lodwar to record my first music. There are no professional recording studios in Kakuma and the available studios, are ill-equipped.”

Angelo is among 55% of the youth population in the camps that have limited opportunities to advance in higher education. UNHCR and other humanitarian agencies are coming up with innovative projects that can enable refugee youth earn a living from their talents.

Artist for Refugees’ (A4R) project by UNHCR is one of its kind, currently being implemented by the Danish Refugee Council. Through this project, professional Kenyan artists Henry Ohanga (hip-hop artist) and Victor Ndula (Cartoon illustrator  for the Star Newspaper) work with a group of refugee artists in a mentorship program that not only helps them develop their talents but also equips them with skills on how to turn their talent into livelihood. The project incorporates two major aspects: visual art and music.

“Through the project, I have learnt that my music is my medium to a better life.”

Raouf Mazou, UNHCR Representative in Kenya says “The idea is to provide an opportunity for them to express themselves their art knowing that this could transform into a livelihood for them.”

The project aims at promoting self-reliance and livelihood for refugees through talent. Whereas Kakuma refugee camp and Kalobeyei settlement harbors thousands of talented refugees, there is a lot more that needs to be done to nurture these talents and help refugees compete fairly with other professionals not as refugees but as talented people.

“I joined the Artist for Refugees project in 2016 where I was trained by Octopizzo (Henry Ohanga) on how to market myself as an artist, how to create my own unique music, and how to earn through my music.”

“I went to Nairobi, Kenya’s capital city and participated in the launch of the ‘Refugeenius Album. It was an amazing experience as I got to perform with Octopizzo for a large audience and fans at Nairobi’s Prestige Plaza,” Angelo says.

20170803-IMG_2434Ukech Daniel (2)

20170803-IMG_2426Ukech Daniel (2)

The ‘Refugeenius’ album consists of 12 music videos, all done by refugees featuring Octopizzo, and is available on iTunes for download. Angelo features in one of the songs under his previous group, the ‘Street Boys.’ The video ‘Let’s Party’ has been watched over 30,000 times on YouTube.

Angelo admits, “Through the project, I have learnt that my music is my medium to a better life. My dream is to become a filmmaker in future but if this dream doesn’t materialize, I know my music will take me far.”

Angelo has founded a group ‘The Black Legacy’ with 8 members that are talented.   The group organized a musical performance at a local club in Kakuma through the skills they learnt through the project.  The event paid handsomely and they plan to use the funds to produce more music.

Thus far, over 300 refugees from Nairobi, Dadaab and Kakuma refugee camps have benefitted since the beginning of the project in the year 2015. Out of this, 100 refugees have undergone several exposure trips to Nairobi where they got a chance to meet and interact with other artists and conduct several media interviews on National TV and radio stations.

As of 31 August 2017, UNHCR Sub-Office Kakuma had registered a total of 183,542 refugees out of which 103,068 (56.2%) are from South Sudan.