Project Journey and Key Achievements

The Promoting Life Skills and Livelihoods project commonly referred to as Skills for Life (S4L) was designed to strengthen the income-generating capabilities of youth (both refugee and from the host community) in Kakuma by enhancing their technical, financial, life and literacy skills to improve their chances of an enriched livelihood.

The Skills for Life project has in the past been carried through in two phases. The first pilot phase was implemented from 2013 to 2015 and was funded by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC).

Swisscontact took up the role of lead implementor in close collaboration with the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC). As a result of the great impact the project made during the pilot phase, a 1-year extension was given which saw the project activities proceed till June 2016.

The second phase, fully funded by SDC, was implemented by Swisscontact from July 2016 and was executed till June 2019. An additional 2-month extension was granted at the end of June 2019 to enable the project to prepare for a third implementation phase.

Alexander Kiptanui, Project Manager
I have always had a passion for working with marginalised communities; offering them a chance to view life differently and create a better future for themselves. My role as the Project Manager for the Skills for Life project was timely and came two years after working in Dadaab Refugee Camp, Garissa County.
Map Kakuma refugee camp
Refugees situation

The Refugee Situation in Kenya

The Kakuma Refugee Camp was established in 1992 after the civil war broke out in the then Sudan. It has since expanded to serve refugees from Somalia, Ethiopia, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Eritrea, Uganda and Rwanda. Located in Turkana County, the North-Western region of Kenya, 120 kilometres from Lodwar and 109 kilometres from the Lokichoggio Kenya-Sudan border, the camp has become a refuge of hope for several refugees and asylum-seekers.

With an influx of new arrivals in 2014, Kakuma surpassed its capacity which led to numerous deliberations and a final decision to allocate additional land to form the Kalobeyei integrated settlement, located 20 km from Kakuma town. The local Kenyan population who reside in Turkana County largely comprise nomadic pastoralists from the Turkana community. Due to the recurring conflicts and other socio-economic constraints, they have limited access to educational services and even fewer opportunities for post-primary or alternative youth education.  According to the Kalobeyei Integrated Socio-Economic Development (KISEDP) report, Turkana West inhabitants comprised approximately 186,000 refugees and 320,000 from the host population (as of November 2018). This indicates that the refugee population within the camp and settlement is growing and quickly reaching that of the host community.  A recent briefing kit compiled by the United Nations refugee agency, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in May 2019 indicated that there were 188,794 refugees (from 22 different nationalities) hosted at Kakuma camp and Kalobeyei settlement. 5% of these have access to electricity while 69% access the internet using smartphones.

Turkana County has one of the lowest indicators of economic and social development in Kenya, with youth and women being the most affected. Due to their abrupt migration, legal situation, local environmental conditions, low and unmatched skills, limited access to financial services necessitated by language barriers, lack of credit history and low literacy levels, refugees are largely unable to support themselves with income-generating activities. The restrictions on employment also deter refugees from job searching. Once admitted into the camp or settlement, refugees do not have the freedom to move around the country and if need be, are required to obtain movement passes from the UNHCR and Kenyan Government. This limits their exposure to opportunities in education and employment which would have essentially assisted them to improve their chances of a better livelihood.

Project Summary

The Skills for Life Project

The Skills for Life project seeks to catalyse systemic change in skills development and employment creation by facilitating flexible, low-cost, market-oriented and competency-based skills training, which serve to create pathways to decent employment for the youth.

The project targets youth aged between 16 and 25 years from both the refugee and the host community. Adolescent girls and young mothers are encouraged to participate because they are naturally more vulnerable to the livelihood challenges than men.

The project uses the learning group model to deliver non-formal technical skills training which is complemented by structured apprenticeships, life skills training and business development support. This provides the youth with well-rounded skills that improve their competitiveness as they transition into the local labour market.

During the pilot phase, the project aimed to strengthen the income-generating capabilities of the refugee youth and the host community in Kakuma through enhanced technical, financial, life and literacy skills for improved livelihoods. The second phase sought to increase the income-generating capabilities of the refugees and the host community (50% women) within Kakuma and Kalobeyei settlement.

Theory of Change

Project Approach

The Approach Explained

The Skills for Life project applies a unique learning group approach geared at tapping into the economic potential of the youth by providing relevant skill sets.  The project is implemented as below:

Project Approach

Awareness and Mobilization

A deliberate awareness drive steered by the Community-Based Trainers (CBTs) is carried out within the host community environs and the refugee camp. The CBTs are men and women selected by the project who live within the community i.e. amongst the hosts and the refugees. They are supported by the community leaders and the local faith-based institutions to increase awareness. Mass awareness campaign initiatives are achieved through different channels such as radio announcements, posters pinned up on public noticeboards and announcements in public and social forums. The project also works in close collaboration with the  Community-Based Organisations (CBOs) and Non – Governmental Organisations (NGOs) based within the community to disseminate information related to the planned training sessions. All these efforts improve the overall participation of youth in the training sessions who acquire market-oriented skills that ultimately improve income generation and boost self-reliance.

Career Guidance and Counselling

The youth are urged to attend career guidance and counselling to ensure they identify a skill set they are interested in and one they will fully maximise on.  The sessions enlighten attendees on the different training opportunities available and on the key areas to pay attention to when choosing a professional field. These sessions are facilitated by the Project Assistants who are supported by the Technical Skills Coordinator.
The youth are taken through a list of thought-provoking questions to encourage self-reflection so that their final selection is genuinely based on their interests. Some of the questions asked during these sessions include:

  1. What is your talent?
  2. What is your dream job?
  3. What is your preferred trade? What appeals to you in this trade?
  4. What talents and personal qualities are required for you to be successful in your chosen trade?
  5. List key tools or equipment found in the work area of your preferred trade?
  6. State some of the opportunities you will capitalize on in the local market after the training.
  7. What challenges do you expect to face in the marketplace if you were to pursue your trade?
  8. Amina is a muslim girl who wants to pursue training in motor vehicle mechanics. Give three reasons why she might be discouraged from pursing her preferred trade. How do you feel about a young girl pursuing motor vehicle mechanics? Why?
  9. Do you believe young men and women can pursue and succeed in the same skill training if they had the opportunity? Why or why not?

Female participants are encouraged to be open-minded and avoid limiting themselves to traditional professions like bakery, tailoring, beadwork, hairdressing and beauty. Individual counselling sessions are offered and held for those in need of more detailed guidance.

Learning Group Formation

Once the youth have chosen their preferred skill set, Learning Groups (LGs) of up to 20 future participants are formed. The learning groups are homogenous, self-selected, self-managed and comprise of people with similar interests. Moderated by their future Community-Based Trainer(s), the participants define their training schedule; ensuring it is feasible for the majority of the participants. Consideration is given to the needs of the young mothers who need to be able to attend to their daily duties and the training too. Once this rather intensive process is complete and the majority are comfortable, the learning groups are ready to start their training.

Technical and Soft Skills Training

The youth go through three months of training in their learning groups with the sessions mainly focussed on technical and soft skills. In most cases, the sessions place more emphasis on practical lessons rather than theoretical ones.

The training sessions are also used to form future business groups. The business groups comprise of 5 to 10 members and are intended for those who are not interested, self-confident or financially stable enough to open their own business or go into wage employment. Additionally, informal savings and lending groups, commonly known as Mavuno Groups, are established within the same time frame to encourage saving. The trainees start saving consistently during their training period; putting aside income generated after they sell their products or offer their services. For instance, the bakery groups save a portion of the money collected from the daily sale of cakes made during their practical training session.  

Training Model

Training Modules

Selection of Training Modules

During the pilot phase, the project conducted a basic market analysis to define key trades for skills training and adopted curricula from a successful skills development project implemented by Swisscontact in Uganda. A total of 12 technical training courses were delivered which include; agriculture, blacksmith, computer repair, bakery, jewellery/beadwork, hairdressing and beauty, laundry, masonry, phone repair, weaving, waste management and tailoring.

Following recommendations from the pilot phase, a needs assessment and a labour markets analysis was carried out to identify the local market opportunities and determine the profitable sectors that would create opportunities by empowering the trainees to immediately generate income. 24 market-driven trades were identified with only 19 trades applied based on their relevance, selection by the prospective learners and cost effectiveness. These included barbery, bakery, beadwork/jewellery, catering, carpentry, computer repair and maintenance, electrical wiring and installation, electronics repair, detergent/ soap making, hairdressing, horticulture, motor vehicle mechanics, motorcycle repair, phone repair, plumbing, poultry, screen printing, tailoring and weaving.

Business Group Coaching
After the training, the business group members set up their businesses with assistance from the project and are supported for the first 12 months based on their needs. Some supportive initiatives the project undertakes includes business group coaching and mentorship sessions, facilitating business registration through permits and licenses and initiating linkages to financial institutions and organizations offering specialized business support.  In exchange, the project receives financial data for monitoring on a monthly basis.

Digital Infusion

The Digital Infusion in the Project

In April 2017, a digital intervention on literacy and numeracy was implemented by the project in partnership with Avallain Foundation. The a-ACADEMY Basic Skills digital portal was applied to test the effectiveness of the provision of literacy and numeracy training as a key skill among blended learning in the 21st century. The basic literacy and numeracy module targets both members of the refugee and the host community who have low or no literacy skills and allows them to gain basic arithmetic and reading skills which they need in their daily interactions. It is an elective course that is taken before or after the daily core training sessions.

The portal applies a pedagogical approach and uses storytelling as an element of adult literacy training; enabling learners to make use of their already existing knowledge.

The platform is packed with engaging and interactive activities that encompass various multimedia elements like a localized curriculum, local currency visuals, local food and locations, animations and other carefully curated and tailormade images and audios that are familiar to the learners. The modules are available both online and offline which is an added advantage as internet access and connectivity within the camp is normally erratic. Learners who access the portal offline have their records backed up and once internet connectivity has been restored, their progress is uploaded for further synthesis and analysis. This unique feature allows the project to easily gauge the progress of the learners.

Social and Gender Inclusion

Social and Gender Inclusion

  1. The integration of creche services commonly referred to as child friendly spaces within the training centres. These are manned by trained caregivers and equipped with several toys to occupy the children as their young mothers focus on learning their new skill. Where dedicated caregivers are not available, the mothers have a choice to select a trusted community member to cater to their children’s needs within the facility. Since execution of the approach, there has been a 20% increase in attendance and notable retention of trainees.
  2. The organisation of several Sexual and Gender-Based Violence (SGBV) campaigns that target both the refugee and host community and serve as safe dialogue sessions for reporting cases related to sexual and gender-based violence. In total, 5 local Anti-Gender-Based Violence engagements have been conducted through open forums targeting community leaders, youth leaders and women. 2 Sexual and Gender-Based Violence workshops have also been held. The workshops focus on empowering young mothers and women on referral pathways, communicating and reporting abuse and forming support groups for survivors.
  3. Partnerships with aid organisations that provide specialized psychosocial support. As a result of these partnerships, 166 beneficiaries (20% refugee and 53% female) were able to access counselling, rights education and legal assistance. Subsequently, the project aims to provide a referral platform with these organizations which will in turn allow beneficiaries to freely access services that would not be readily offered by the project.
  4. The project introduced the Sports for Development (S4D) approach with the aim of enhancing  peaceful cohesion and integration among inhabitants within the host and refugee communities. The 6 football tournaments that have been organised have proven to not only build teams but are a great source of improvement of soft skills like effective communication, conflict resolution and negotiation. The S4D approach has so far involved 956 community members (66% female).

How Sustainable is the Project?

The project is implemented in partnership with several stakeholders who provide technical and financial support to effectively deliver various aspects of the project.

The local Community-Based Organizations (CBOs) are supported in implementing project activities in the areas they work and are familiar with. This forms a crucial part in the project replication strategy due to their increased sense of ownership.  A replication success example would, for instance, be the continuous growth of mavuno groups in the community; involving even members who have not directly benefited from the project or gone through any skill set training.  

Partnering with the National and County Government and Non-Governmental Organizations has encouraged an upgrade in skills and efficient transition of the project beneficiaries into entrepreneurship. The cordial relationship maintained by these stakeholders has encouraged referrals and linkages with other institutions working outside the project coverage area.

Integrating both the host community and the refugees in the project implementation is vital as it not only gives the refugees a sense of belonging, but the hosts also feel included in income-generating opportunities available in their land. In reality, if allowed to integrate and belong, refugees can be self-reliant and contribute socially and economically, in many cases becoming an asset to their host countries.


The individual trainee baseline data is collected at the beginning of the training. A second questionnaire is issued at the end of the 3-month training. Those who do not choose to be part of the business groups and the early leavers are traced 12 months after graduation in a tracer study. Data is also recorded from mavuno group members and business groups using a questionnaire every month.

Swisscontact's Role

Swisscontact's Role in the Project Implementation Process

Swisscontact plays an important facilitatory role during the project implementation process as it offers unique non-formal skills training which is rare in fragile contexts but very durable. Most refugees and asylum-seekers are accustomed to handouts and humanitarian aid given to them to ease the burden of displacement. This approach has created dependency and proven to be unsustainable over the years as once the donors move out, the refugees lack the skills to fend for themselves.

Swisscontact’s role includes but is not limited to:

  • Project Design.
  • Local Market Analysis.
  • Career Guidance and Counselling.
  • Training Module Development and Delivery.
  • Training of Trainers (ToT).
  • Establishment of and support to learning groups, savings and lending groups and business associations.
  • Supporting the growth of businesses and their access to financial services.
  • Developing learning tools for enterprises offering internship places - guiding the internships.
  • Facilitating meetings with local authorities and community leaders and supporting awareness and mobilization workshops.
  • Elaborating conflict-sensitive approaches.
  • Integrating Psychosocial Support Services and Sports For Development initiatives.
  • Documenting learning and methodologies in donor reports for replication of best practices.
  • Overall project management and monitoring.
Overall Results and Impact
Since its inception, the project saw the delivery of technical skills training to 3,096 beneficiaries who generated a total income of CHF 135,411 from their businesses. Many youths benefitted from the project intervention of increasing access to financial services through group savings and lending activities. By the end of the second phase, CHF 672,299 had been loaned out and allocated to attend to different needs.
Lessons learnt
Even if the project’s mandate was limited to strengthening the income-generating capabilities of youth, it acknowledged that this alone could not holistically benefit the refugees as they faced immense uncertainties trying to return to normalcy in a foreign land.