On 15th May due to my current role as Executive Secretary of Don Bosco International, I have the great opportunity to get to know directly the great work done by Salesians inside Kakuma Camp, one of the biggest refugee camps, located in the North of Kenya in which many South-Sudanese, Congolese, Somalians and many other nationalities.
The first impression when you land in the United Nations’ flight is that you have landed in the middle of stony field. Among all the UN cars and staff, the Salesian Rector, Fr. Jose, is waiting for me and guides me to the first step of our visit, the location of the future project of Kakuma Community, a new Salesian House for the hosting community of Kakuma, composed by Kenyans who also live in very poor conditions.
Once we crossed the river, only existing when floods come, we get into the refugee camp, among the many post-signs, a very big one with the face of Don Bosco, indicating the four T-VET centres that provide training to around 1500 young people. In our way, I try to pay attention to every person walking along the bumpy road, and I could see the normal activity of a city, the invisible city of Kakuma.
After a 15-minute drive, we reached Kakuma Centre 1, the biggest centre and the original one, where the Salesian Community lives. By the way, the Salesians are the only NGO that “sleeps” in the camp; therefore, as the confreres were sharing with me, they have the same timetable of a refugee. After 6 pm, they cannot leave the camp.
Guided by the director Fr. Nicodemus and the headmaster, I visit one by one all the workshops. Most of the instructors, are Past Pupils, and as a leader of the Past Pupils myself, I can only feel a huge pride of these brothers and sisters, working and living with the poorest young people. Indeed, one of them is in charge of organizing the Past Pupils of all the centres. Just a normal fact in any Salesian House, but amazing in a refugee camp!
The workshops, despite the venue, are in good state, slightly better than another Kenyan T-VET centre that I had visited few days before: carpentry, masonry, welding, logistics, production (furniture), dressing and tailoring, and secretarial, are among the 10 trades given in Kakuma I.
After visiting the school, Fr. Jose takes me to see the parish inside the camp, a humble church that every Sunday hosts 9 celebrations, including the Missionary Stations, spread around the camp. While heading to the other three centres, he shares with me that Kakuma is a place with great opportunities for the Salesian work. Most of the refugees are young people that need formation; need to learn a job and to learn entrepreneurial skills, so that if they come back to their country, they will not only be able to survive but to develop their local communities.
Kakuma 2, the agricultural centre, it is now growing after some years of difficulties. Over a hundred young people learn how to cultivate, and self-sustain themselves. By chance, some people from Nairobi is around to settle 4 new water deposits and the piping system, that will allow them
Kakuma 3 and Kakuma 4 provide computer and English skills. Thanks to UNHCR contribution, both centres are very well equipped, and if possible facilities to host more workshops and residences for instructors, might come if some funds reach the House. Again, the capacity of planning and dreaming of some Salesians, never stops to surprise.
The last moment, was a fraternal lunch with all the confreres of the community, although I had the chance to meet them one by one during my visit. The echoes of the Rector Mayor visit few weeks ago and their work in the different fields (T-VET centres, the oratory and the huge parish) and getting to know my job in Don Bosco International in Brussels.
I would like to conclude this journey with one last fact, which I got to know the day after my visit. The founder of this Salesian presence was Fr. Vincenzo Donati, an amazing missionary, aged 90, who despite health problems continues raising funds to build schools in South Sudan. He was the one starting the mission in the 90s, alone and with the only support of his Past Pupils from Korea. Once again, another fact to feel proud as Past Pupils.
One final message would be that despite the difficulty of the place, Kakuma Salesian Presence, has the same elements of any other Salesian place in the world, and this without any kind of doubt is the most surprising and excellent fact that I came across.