Two Days in Africa

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June 25, 2014

A week ago Monday children in Africa celebrated the Day of the African Child.  Just four days later the world marked World Refugee Day.  Were the holidays' proximity to each other intended?  Doubtful.  Does their falling so close to each other symbolize something?  Definitely. 

The children who reside in the Kakuma Refugee Camp in Kenya are refugees, many having gone through horrific experiences and now living in terrible conditions. 

The lives these children lead are similar to the lives of refugees, young and old, spread throughout the world, who have been forced to flee their homes or who never even had a home to begin with.  These children are growing up as refugees in an environment with little opportunity for a proper education and where work is not an option.

The lives these children lead are so different from the lives of their counterparts spread throughout the world, who enjoy the joys and benefits of a decent childhood.

The African child is first and foremost a child.  Yes, he may be a refugee; but rather than think of him only as a refugee, we must recognize that the African child, like children all around the world, is a young human being, with the potential to grow and to be nurtured into a mature adult that can live a complete life and that can contribute much to the world. 

The Day of the African Child reminds us that although they are refugees, the young people living in the Kakuma Refugee Camp deserve to be seen as children. 

A week ago Monday in honor of this special day, the graduates of IsraAID's psychosocial arts-based facilitation training program at the Kakuma Refugee Camp led an expressive arts activity for hundreds of children.  The event offered children an opportunity and literally provided a space for them to freely express their thoughts and emotions regarding the theme of the day: Free Education For All.

One of the most beautiful things about witnessing this activity, besides the fact that children were enjoying themselves, was that the people facilitating the program were refugees themselves.  Although the Kakuma Refugee Camp is literally overflowing with people from South Sudan, Sudan, Somalia and many other African countries who have endured terrible hardships, it a is a place that is often filled with optimism, creativity, and a generous, giving spirit. 

So many of the refugees that I have encountered are eager to assist in any way that they can.  They jump at the opportunity to learn a skill that they know they can pass onto someone else.  

While the Day of the African Child reminds us that a refugee child should be seen as a child, World Refugee Day is an opportunity to recognize the reality that is the life of a refugee. 

"I did not want to be a refugee. I did not sign up for it or fill out an application. Anyone can find himself in this position," explained a teacher and refugee from IsraAID's psychosocial training team in Kakuma during a discussion about World Refugee Day.

The Kakuma Refugee Camp marked World Refugee Day last Friday with a variety of events and activities.  Residents held a cultural showcase, participated in a peace dialogue, and competed in a run for peace.  Guests from all over the world came to offer their support to the Kakuma refugees.  In turn, they learned how the residents of the Kakuma Refugee Camp are using the skills they have gained and the little means they have to promote the wellbeing of their fellow refugee and the refugee child.  

Seeing children express themselves through art on the Day of the African Child causes us to acknowledge how precious childhood is.  Watching children showcase their lives on World Refugee Day makes us unable to ignore where it is happening.