The Morning Train — A Procession of Hope
IsraAID Humanitarian Fellow Ariella Kissin describes the unique way that the children of Kalobeyei Integrated Settlement in Kenya wake up for daily activities. As the sun rises over Kakuma Refugee Camp, a chorus of voices grows louder in volume, singing in harmony.
We call it the Morning Train: a daily procession led by Child Protection facilitators who mobilize children in the Kalobeyei Integrated Settlement, leading them to a secure area for the children to play and engage in supervised activities for the day. Comprised of a wide, open yard and IsraAID’s indoor Child Resource Center, the center is a haven for hundreds of refugee children.
This morning I find myself at the center prepared for a long day of activity with children, parents, and facilitators in the community. The first item on our agenda is to bring children to the center. I am grappling with the vague explanation that we do this simply by marching through the village and “gathering the children.” The plan is to leave the center, circle through the village, and end up again at the Child Friendly Space, this time with a crowd of youngsters.
We exit the virtually empty center and begin our procession through Kalobeyei. My worried expression must give away exactly what I’m thinking — how are we possibly going to gather all the children in the village? — because one of the IsraAID facilitators catches my eye and smiles knowingly.
“Just wait,” he reassures me, “There will be many children soon.”
We stroll through the narrow streets, welcoming the intermittent breeze as the sun’s glare grows brighter. Suddenly, the silence of Kalobeyei is broken as a facilitator vigorously bursts into song. His melodic voice rings throughout the peaceful village; it is a familiar invitation to children everywhere that the Morning Train has begun.
The response he receives is profound: a faint echo of high-pitched voices from various parts of the village as the children begin to harmonize with him. Children playing in the street look up with delight as they see us making our way towards them. They hasten to join the procession, eager to sing along. Their cheerful singing grows louder in volume as more and more voices unite. They dash from their makeshift homes, hand-in-hand with siblings and friends. One girl grasps my hand and we walk side-by-side. Her voice, tremulous at first, grows stronger as we walk along, and before long, her melody exudes confidence. Parents gather in the streets to watch, smiling and clapping along as we make our way through the village.
Using the medium of song and dance, the facilitators walk through the Kalobeyei streets, inviting children to join our procession. Before long, an impromptu parade has formed.
The music is powerful; the palpable emotion made me feel inexplicably lifted. Singing with a constantly expanding procession only enhanced this feeling. As more and more children joined, our collective voices swelled and grew increasingly louder, lighting up the village with boundless energy. Kalobeyei is awakening with song.
It is the epitome of community — the Morning Train brings children of different nationalities and mother tongues together to sing the same songs. In these vulnerable living conditions, a sense of community is vital to children’s well-being.
“This time for Africa!” they cry out, clapping and dancing along to Shakira’s 2010 hit, as the parade grows significantly in size.
There is something so profound about singing together this way. It feels to me like a declaration of resilience. Heard throughout the village, the children’s songs are a reminder of hope for a better future — despite the difficulties of refugee life.
We began our procession with only a few children. When we finally arrive at the center, there are 260, flooding the space and preparing for a full day of activity.
The Morning Train is more than a procession. It is a march that preserves the sacredness of childhood amid the difficult realities of Kakuma, one of the world’s oldest and largest refugee camps.
Kakuma Refugee Camp and neighboring Kalobeyei Settlement are home to 190,000 refugees from across the region. IsraAID has worked in the camp since 2013. Ariella is currently attending Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio. She is one of two IsraAID Humanitarian Fellows who volunteered in Kenya during summer 2019.
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