There are nearly half a million Somali refugees currently living in the Dadaab Refugee Camp, located in northeastern Kenya. The majority of residents fall under one of two categories — victims of violence or victims of the ongoing starvation. After having visited the Dadaab Refugee Camp myself this past summer, I have been compelled to promote hidden truths of the camp, as well as voice the needs of the voiceless refugees.
I experienced a few important revelations during my first day of driving through the refugee camps in Dadaab. First, Dadaab is an extremely diverse community which even maintains a bustling free-market in some areas. This is especially important because it shows the impact that remittances can have, an opportunity for aid money to grow the refugee economy, and, finally, the ingenuity of refugees in the camp. The goods ranged from smart phones to Coca-Cola, and the were being imported and sold at a rapid pace.
Apart from viewing the existing market, I also interviewed a number of refugees along with my colleagues.
Our findings were startling; as we engaged in one of the group discussions one of the women stated that she just “want[ed] to be able to help [her]self” financially. In the minds of many refugees, the system of aid handouts, despite being necessary, is unsatisfying to them. It was clear to me that what refugees seek is greater autonomy in their lives and the opportunity to work for their own benefit.
My experience has led me to the unassailable conclusion that the refugees’ of the Dadaab Camp seek assistance in the form of micro-lending or similar employment opportunities. There is no doubt that there is a bustling market in place, as well as a population of innovative and entrepreneurial refugees waiting for an opportunity to succeed. As students of the College of William and Mary, we are in a unique position to provide micro-lending opportunities through our own innovation, fundraising and collaboration. There has never been a better time to attempt such a project, as the camp situation decays with every passing day.