“Kenya Gives a Chance to Everyone, Especially Refugees”
“I don’t miss my home,” says Andre Akinovic, “I came here to protect my life.” Andre is IsraAID Kenya’s Communications Officer but is also a refugee. “IsraAID is very different from other organizations where you won’t find refugees in the office or at a staff level. In IsraAID we are a huge part of the staff.”
Originally from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Andre received his degree in nutrition and studied photography in his home country. After his studies, he worked as a journalist. A story he reported aired on local radio and upset government authorities. The radio station was shut down, and Andre’s colleague disappeared. “To this day, I still don’t know where he is. I decided to run away,” he says.
“When I came here, I came by myself.” Andre left DRC in 2016 and made his way to Kenya through the Busia border crossing. He arrived in Nairobi, making his way through the city by himself and eventually locating the UNHCR offices. About a month later, in February 2017, Andre arrived at Kakuma refugee camp before being transferred to Kalobeyei integrated settlement.
“They gave me a tent and two jerry cans, and something like 15 USD worth of food rations. That’s how I started. I struggled every day,” he said. Andre looked for ways to keep himself busy and adjust to the unfamiliar climate. “It was my first time living somewhere where the sun is so hot. Every morning I committed to getting through the day. I just stayed at home because I had no activities. I would wake up, hang around the area and sleep again. Sometimes there would be a call for a community meeting. So, I would go there and return home to sit and sleep.”
Andre began volunteering with the UN as a volunteer community mobilizer, but the work wasn’t consistent and was unpaid. In June 2019, things changed when Andre met IsraAID for the first time. Andre joined a training and was brought on as a facilitator. Within a month, he was promoted to working in IsraAID’s Child-Friendly Spaces. COVID-19 stopped activities for several months, but soon IsraAID was back out in the community. While coronavirus restrictions still barred gatherings, IsraAID started visiting community members at home.
Recently, Andre began sharing his dream of opening a photography studio with his colleagues. He spoke about his experience and studies in photography and asked for help to try and make his dream come true. “Gayle, the Country Director, told me they are looking for someone who can fill the role of Communication Officer and take photos of our activities. I was given a one-month trial, and Gayle saw that I was good and knew how to take photos. From there, I continued in the role until today,” Andre says.
“I would like to take this precious opportunity to give my thanks to IsraAID for the trust they granted me, and thanks to our country director Gayle,” Andre adds. “The closest thing to my heart and mind – the thing that will allow me to change my life and my family’s life, is to have my own photography and videography studio. Then I can give jobs and experience to other youth refugees like myself,” Andre says.
“I read every day in the news about the situation back home. In the Eastern DRC, where I come from, the M23 and other rebel groups are still fighting every day. I was targeted by police and security officers. If I went back today, I don’t think I would be safe. So I decided to put my country behind me and look for somewhere, anywhere else in the world.”
Two years after arriving in Kenya, Andre’s brother came to join him, settling in a different part of Kalobeyei. “I see him most days. He’s a painter,” he says. Andre met his wife, Tatiana, in 2019. She is also Congolese and was living with her family in a different part of the settlement. The couple has a young daughter. “My wife is an expert in dressing well,” he says. “If God wills it, my wife and her family will be resettled in the U.S. this year. We have separate cases, and they’ll be resettled before me. I’ll make it there too, even if it takes five years. I pray to God that I can go with my baby girl. I don’t want to be separated from my daughter.”
“Since moving to Kenya, I think there has been a major change for me, which is not what I expected. I hope the future will be even greater than today,” Andre says. “Here, I got the chance to share my experiences and be part of a community. Here I have the chance to participate, to be part of something bigger than me. Kenya gives a chance to everyone.”