Kenya: life in the Kakuma refugee camp during the pandemic

Labour market insertion
Fortunately, there is still no case of COVID-19 infection in and around the Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya. However, daily life in the camp is limited. The skills development project which Swisscontact is implementing on behalf of SDC is experiencing the consequences of the lockdown, too. Former participants of the training are inventive and adapt their offers: they sew face masks and produce disinfectants. Alexander Kiptanui, project manager of “Skills 4 Life”, gives an insight into how project work can partly continue despite the lack of freedom of movement and weak technical infrastructures on the ground.

Now they sew face masks instead of dresses. The group of tailors, who gained their skills through the "Skills 4 Life" project in the Kakuma refugee camp, is adapting to the changed demand. At the same time, they are securing their livelihood. The project team has linked the group with other organisations and local authorities to coordinate production. Another working group has learned in the training session how to produce cleaning detergents. The three women of the group also produce soap and disinfectants. At the moment, they are very busy. They produced 60 litres of soap and sold products worth 5,940‬ Kenyan Shilling (CHF 54) in one day. Negotiations are underway with the government to distribute the products to the local population.

Interview with Alexander Kiptanui, project manager of “Skills 4 Life”

How is life in the Kakuma refugee camp affected by COVID-19? What are the implications for the project?

Alexander Kiptanui: Life in Kakuma refugee camp and Kalobeyei Integrated Settlement has been significantly affected following reports of the first COVID-19 case in Kenya on 12th March 2020. UNHCR and all partners working within the camp alongside the host community suspended all missions unless considered critical or in response to emergencies. Despite no case being reported in Turkana County yet, most of the planned activities at Skills for Life (S4L) have been suspended and Swisscontact staff are working from home. Other partner agencies and the UN organisations have also replicated this. Most businesses remain closed in the town, and access to the refugee camp has been restricted. 

Is the project team able to continue working? 

All project team members are currently working virtually from their homes with regular communication taking place through phone, email and Skype. The Skype meetings are held to deliberate on project work and respond to emerging concerns from the team. There is also a WhatsApp group for all Swisscontact staff working in Kenya where important and regular updates on the pandemic are shared. Despite the decrease in human interaction, the S4L team is currently able to strengthen its monitoring and results-measurement data virtually through the Kobo Toolbox. Additionally, staff are being encouraged to participate in virtual training sessions and project-related webinars to strengthen their capacities.

Is there a possibility to stay in touch with the beneficiaries? 

The project team is connecting with beneficiaries via phone calls through the respective learning group leaders, assuring them of the project’s plans to offer training once the pandemic subsides. Both Project Assistants and Community-Based Trainers (CBTs) regularly confirm the beneficiary welfare. They get feedback from the leaders on the practicality of the actual training sessions once they resume, e.g. if there are many mothers within a group, the S4L team will consider having a makeshift crèche to increase mother concentration in class. The project team is also engaging with the established business owners from the previous phase through phone calls to find out the challenges they are facing and assist them with possible solutions. This mentoring is critical for the beneficiaries so that they do not feel left alone during this difficult time. The CBTs play a significant role here as they are present on-site and live within the environs of the businesses.

How is the collaboration with project partners happening? 

The exchange between the S4L project and its partners takes place virtually for now. For the most part, this will continue even after the current situation eases. Since the project has just entered a new phase, a call for new partnerships is expected to be published and interested Community-Based Organisations will be allowed to express their interest virtually. Due to poor internet connectivity within Kakuma camp and Kalobeyei Integrated Settlement, the project team will make phone calls to ensure all stakeholders are aware of the current happenings.