Women and children's coping strategies at Kakuma Refugee Camp, 1992-2010
Wekhuyi, Rose N
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The conflicts in Africa have been a major problem causing displacement of millions of people looking for relatively safer destinations. Most of them end up in refugee camps for years. These refugee situations, especially in Africa, become forgotten emergencies as those in camps struggle to cope with the realities of their new situations. The majority of refugees in most camps are women and children. The researcher chose to focus on women because women are the custodians of the society's norms and values, and the procreators of the .same cultural values through generations. When conflicts come they are destabilised together with the children, and this affects the fabric that holds society together. These two groups have been portrayed as helpless in situations of conflict. This study sought to test the validity of this opinion by carrying out a case study of Kakuma Refugee Camp and interviewing 80 refugees comprising 40 women, 20 children and 20 men. The fieldwork was carried out within the camp in the month of August 2005 with the permission of the Government through the Ministry of Education Science and Technology with consultation with the UNHCR offices at the site. It is within AmoldrToynbee's challenge and response' theory that this study was carried out. Arnold posits that both the human and physical environment influences a people's way of life. The natural environment at Kakuma is harsh and the host community is hostile to the refugees because of the perception that they have better facilities than them. According to this theory, adaptability grows in proportion to the difficulties faced. This research attempts to develop an understanding of the methods used by women and children to cope and adapt to the new environment far way from their mother countries. It examines the livelihood means they employ as a means of coping, and ensuring their security. The study used both primary and secondary methods to collect data. The findings show , the resourcefulness displayed by the refugees as they employ various strategies to cope, both on a short and long term basis. The study also revealed that women assume new roles both at the family and community level. Whilst Refugee camps that are meant to be temporary settlement areas for refugees on flight, Kakuma Camp is a permanent home to many who have lived thei'tsince it was established. The study established that women and children are vulnerable, and they suffer because of the patriarchal structures in most African communities, but they do not lack initiative. The women started a wide range of economic activities, and developed social networks both locally and abroad, which gave them hope in such adverse situations. They demonstrated remarkable resilience and resourcefulness in dealing with an otherwise difficult situation. Children not only depended on their parents, relatives and organizations working at the camp, but also had their own ways of coping especially at school where they took part in sporting and religious activities, drama and choir. Some ran small businesses around the camp besides to help their parents.